Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Bell officials plead not guilty to public corruption charges

October 21, 2010 | 12:02 pm


Eight current or former Bell city leaders pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges they misappropriated more than $5.5 million from the small, working-class town.

All eight appeared in court to enter their pleas and agreed to return Dec. 8 when a date for a preliminary hearing will be set. Each was flanked by their attorneys and did not speak with one another.

Prosecutors on Wednesday filed two new charges against former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, perceived as the ringleader in the alleged public corruption case.

Rizzo, 56, is already facing 53 felony counts of misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and falsification of documents, including allegations that he wrote his employment contract without council approval.

Of those counts, 44 involve the misappropriation of more than $2.5 million in public funds, including awarding $1.9 million in unauthorized loans to himself, city employees and two council members. He faces one additional count each of conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds for a value exceeding $1.3 million.

If he is convicted of the second count, Rizzo would have to provide a DNA sample.

The new charges are in connection to Dennis Tarango, the city's privately contracted planning director. The city has paid Tarango's engineering firms more than $10.4 million since 1995. Tarango is also a business partner with Rizzo in a horse-racing venture.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder said it was a conflict of interest because Rizzo could not influence a decision in which he may have had a financial stake. Tarango is not a public official and will not be charged, she said.

The other defendants include former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, and former council members Luis Artiga, Victor Bello and George Cole.

Mirabal and Bello remain in custody. The others have posted bail.

-- Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: L.A. County Sheriff's Department.


Corruption in Bell: A Times investigation