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Former Bell leaders ordered to stand trial

March 10, 2011 | 10:56 am

Former Bell leaders Robert Rizzo and his assistant Angela Spaccia in court on Mar. 10.

A judge Thursday ordered former Bell chief administrator Robert Rizzo and his assistant Angela Spaccia to stand trial on charges they looted the city treasury by writing lucrative employment contracts without Bell City Council approval.

Arraignment for former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, his former deputy Angela Spaccia and two other former officials was scheduled for March 24.

Rizzo and seven other former Bell officials were arrested in September as part of a corruption and salary scandal that has rocked the working-class city.

Rizzo and Spaccia are accused of writing their own employment contracts, making them among the most highly paid city administrators in the country.

During a hearing Wednesday, Rizzo's attorney James Spertus asked the judge to focus on the charges and not the prosecutor's "sensationalism."

"The people are, with dramatic flair, trying to deflect the spotlight from the charges that they have to prove," Spertus said.

He also argued that the city's charter granted Rizzo the power to authorize loans, which were made available to city employees who used vacation and sick days as collateral. "Nobody was trying to hide this from anybody," Spertus said. "It's not a misappropriation of funds to give an employee their own money."

Rizzo is the sole defendant in the final hearing, in which he is accused of conflict of interest for his dealings with Dennis Tarango, who served as Bell's privately contracted planning director. The two once owned racehorses together. The city has paid Tarango's firms $10.4 million since 1995, according to the state controller's office.

In all, Rizzo was charged with more than 50 felony counts of misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and falsification of documents.

Former Councilman Luis Artiga, who resigned after his arrest, and Mayor Oscar Hernandez, who was recalled by voters on Tuesday, are also defendants. They are charged because they received loans.

RELATED:

Newly elected Bell council members pledge to sweep out City Hall

Former Bell Councilman Victor Bello posts bail, released from jail

New Bell council must act quickly to avoid insolvency; big budget cuts likely

-- Corina Knoll at Los Angeles County Superior Court

Photo: Former Bell leaders Robert Rizzo and Angela Spaccia in court on Thursday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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