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Bell's Robert Rizzo to return to court after chest pains

Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo was expected to return to court Monday after a brief stay in the hospital for chest pains, his attorney said.

The preliminary hearing for Rizzo and other Bell officials accused of misappropriating public funds was temporarily suspended Wednesday when Rizzo began experiencing chest pains and difficulty breathing and was rushed to the hospital.

"It's an extremely stressful process," said his attorney, James Spertus, who declined to talk about his client's health.

Rizzo was eager to return to court, Spertus said. Of the eight city officials accused of looting Bell's treasury, Rizzo has been painted as the mastermind and faces 54 felony corruption charges.

In the current hearing, Rizzo and former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia are accused of writing their own employee contracts without council approval.

Former Councilman Luis Artiga and Mayor Oscar Hernandez also are charged in the case for allegedly participating in a program in which $1.9 million in city money was loaned to Bell employees, politicians and even a local businessman.

Spertus said Rizzo was pleased with the testimony of Lourdes Garcia, the city finance director who was granted limited immunity to appear on the witness stand.

Garcia has confirmed the loans Rizzo gave to employees were repaid and lawful, Spertus said, adding that most of the employees received loans for legitimate reasons, such as to pay for school.

"The burden of showing proof that these loans were unlawful falls on the people, not Bob Rizzo," Spertus said. "So far no one has cited any statute or authority that says this was unlawful."

-- Ruben Vives

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