Prelim hearing picks up for ex-Bell city manager Rizzo charged with looting millions of public dollars

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From left Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former council members Luis Artiga, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia and former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appear during a preliminary hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court February 22, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue this morning for Robert Rizzo. He’s the former Bell city administrator accused of leading a scam that siphoned more than $5 million in public money. After Rizzo had a medical emergency, the presiding judge cut short last week’s testimony.

A hospital released Robert Rizzo a day after he left the courtroom complaining of chest pains. His attorney, James Spertus, didn’t say exactly what was wrong with his client.

But after paramedics drove Rizzo away from criminal court on Wednesday, Spertus said that stress probably had something to do with it. “It’s very stressful not to be able to tell your side of the story. To have prosecutors and the press describe wrongdoing that didn’t happen, and it takes a long time to develop facts.”

Earlier that day, Bell’s administrative services director Lourdes Garcia had testified about dozens of loans city employees had received from the public treasury. She said that Rizzo, who was making up to $800,000 a year, had authorized them all, including loans to her – and to himself.

Alfred Areyan of Bell shook his head in frustration as he left the courtroom. “That was $2.5 million that he gave the loans. God only knows how much percentage came back to our community – which is maybe 50, 60 percent possibly that they gave back through their vacation and sick pay.”

Rizzo and several other officials are in the second round of preliminary hearings. A judge will decide whether there’s enough evidence for them to stand trial on charges of corruption and misuse of public funds.

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