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Bell scandal: Agency probing jet trips to Rizzo's horse farm

March 7, 2012 |  4:11 pm

Rizzo
The state Fair Political Practices Commission has become the latest government agency to stick its head into the Bell scandal, investigating plane trips by two former council members that were paid for by then-city manager Robert Rizzo.

The commission has charged former Councilman Luis Artiga with receiving gifts from Rizzo that exceeded the $420 annual limit and then violating conflict of interest rules when he voted to fire Rizzo two months later.

Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez is being investigated for the same alleged offenses, and Rizzo is being investigated for giving gifts that exceeded the annual limit, said Gary Winuk, the commission’s chief of enforcement.

The gift allegations against the two part-time city politicians stem from May, 2010 airplane trips to Washington state, where Rizzo owns a horse farm.

Rizzo paid $1,299 to buy tickets for Hernandez, his live-in girlfriend and her three children, said Stanley L. Friedman, the former mayor’s attorney.

Rizzo also paid $737 for Artiga’s trip. It was not clear if he traveled alone.

The fact that Rizzo paid for the trips raises questions about the relationships between him and the former council members. During Rizzo’s 17-year tenure as Bell’s chief executive, council members salaries rose to almost $100,000 a year for a part-time job while his own compensation ballooned to about $1.5 million annually.

The three men face potential fines of $5,000 per offense.

The FPPC charges are the least of their legal problems. Along with four other former council members, Artiga and Hernandez face felony charges of misappropriation of public funds for receiving salaries members of city boards that seldom, if ever, met.

All six former politicians in the working-class city in southeast LA County are free on bail.

Rizzo and his second in command, Angela Spaccia, face dozens of felony charges for their alleged roles in draining the city's finances, including paying themselves outsized salaries without council approval, lending city money and falsifying documents.

There are also pending investigations by several other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, Securities and Exchange Commission and the state Department of Corporations.

James Spertus, Rizzo’s attorney, said the FPPC is just piling on.

“It just kind of shows anyone who has any investigative authority over anything is trying to jump on the bandwagon,” he said.

Artiga’s case has advanced the farthest. He can either stipulate to the violation or eventually take it to a hearing before an administrative law judge. His attorney declined comment.

Friedman said he did not know about the investigation into Hernandez’ campaign filings.

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-- Jeff Gottlieb

Photo:Former City Administrator Robert Rizzo closes his eyes while listening in court. From left are ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez, ex-Councilman Luis Artiga and Rizzo's former assistant, Angela Spaccia. Credit:   Mark Boster

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