Testimony picks up in Bell preliminary hearings after Rizzo health scare

Defense Attorney George Mgdesyan and his client, former Bell city councilman Luis Artiga, field reporters' questions outside criminal court in downtown Los Angeles on Monday
Defense Attorney George Mgdesyan and his client, former Bell city councilman Luis Artiga, field reporters' questions outside criminal court in downtown Los Angeles on Monday Corey Moore/KPCC

The preliminary hearing for Bell city former chief manager Robert Rizzo continued Monday with more testimony about loans he authorized to dozens of city employees. At issue is whether the payouts were legitimate.

The city’s administrative services director said the collateral for most loans came from vacation and sick time employees had racked up.

Outside the courtroom, defense attorney George Mgdesyan said his client, former Bell councilman Luis Artiga, broke no laws by accepting loans that Rizzo had approved. Mgdesyan shrugged off a Bell taxpayer who’d criticized the loans from the “Bank of Rizzo.”

“They can call it what they want to call it," said Mgdesyan. "But the bottom line is the prosecution has a burden of proving that what Mr. Rizzo was doing was wrong, that Mr. Rizzo did not have the authority to give these loans and I don’t think there’s any evidence – and I’m sure everybody heard that – there’s no evidence of that. What Mr. Artiga did was he came into office in 2009 and took two loans. He’s number 50 on the list. There’s 40 other – 40-plus loans ahead of him.”

Artiga said he’d borrowed money from the city as others, including law enforcement officials, had before him.

“Two chiefs of police who had FBI training, master degrees... police officers for years...they took the loans. I had no reason to doubt they were legal. I know the truth will set me free. I feel very strong, I hear the evidence and I know I didn’t do nothing wrong.”

Artiga, Rizzo, his former assistant city administrator Angela Spaccia and Bell city mayor Oscar Hernandez are all accused of taking loans that used more than a million dollars of the city’s money. Rizzo apparently approved two loans for himself – each for at least $80,000.

A judge will decide whether there’s enough evidence for Rizzo, Artiga, Spaccia and Hernandez to stand trial on criminal counts including misappropriation of public money.

Testimony resumes Tuesday morning.

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