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All eight in Bell corruption case appear in court; Rizzo held in medical facility, attorney says [Updated]

September 22, 2010 | 12:28 pm

Rizzo Dressed in various shades of jail-issued clothing, eight current and former Bell city officials appeared in court Wednesday morning but did not enter pleas in a sweeping public-corruption case.

An attorney for former City Administrator Robert Rizzo disclosed that his client has been in a jail medical facility and that he has been unable to review the array of felony charges with his client. Rizzo is charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds, falsification of documents and conflict of interest.

Two other defendants, Councilman Luis Artiga and former Councilman George Cole, are poised to post bail, their attorneys said. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said it was satisfied that both had met the requirement of proving their bail money is not coming from ill-gotten income.

Another defendant, Teresa Jacobo, also satisfied the DA’s requirement but requested a reduction in her $260,000 bail, an indication that she was unable to post that amount.

The other defendants, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Councilman George Mirabal and former Councilman Victor Bello, also requested bail-reduction hearings.

[Updated at 12:49 p.m.: Stanley Friedman, an attorney for Hernandez and Bello, said he expects both to make bail. "They are disappointed the charges were filed. They are disappointed they were arrested," he said.

Friedman said at a bail hearing Wednesday afternoon that he will challenge the district attorney's argument that income his clients received from the city cannot be used to post bail.

Russell Petit, an attorney for Spaccia, said three of four charges against his client involved loans she repaid.]

The arraignments, in which the city leaders would enter pleas, were postponed until Oct. 21.

The public-corruption case follows months of outrage and debate over public-employee compensation since The Times reported in July that Bell's leaders were among the nation's highest-paid municipal officials.

In filing the case, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley described Rizzo as the "unelected and unaccountable czar" of Bell, accusing him of going to elaborate lengths to keep his salary secret.

Prosecutors allege that Rizzo gave himself huge pay raises without the City Council's approval.

"This was calculated greed and theft accomplished by deceit and secrecy," Cooley said.

Rizzo's compensation package was the most extreme example of the huge paychecks earned by elected leaders and city administrator, Cooley said. Rizzo had an annual salary and benefits totaling more than $1.5 million.

Prosecutors accused him of illegally writing his own employment contracts and steering nearly $1.9 million in unauthorized city loans to himself and others.

Of the eight current and former city leaders now facing charges, Rizzo’s bail is also the highest -- $3.2 million.

Rizzo's attorney, James W. Spertus, said the charges came as no surprise and were politically motivated by Cooley, who is running for California attorney general.

"The allegations are mistaken," Spertus said. "They are factually untrue in many readily provable ways."

Cooley denied that his election effort played any part in the decision to file charges.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday, where his bail has been set at $3.2 million. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Photos: Arrests in Bell