Judge orders top Bell officials to stand trial on corruption charges

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Irfan Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo listens to proceedings during his preliminary hearing on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The man accused of running a scam that bilked Bell city of nearly $6 million is headed to trial. A judge ruled that there’s enough evidence to show former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo committed more than 50 counts of fraud.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry Hall accused Rizzo of falsifying documents to hide his salary and benefits package worth over a million dollars. Hall said Rizzo made more money in a week than many people in Bell make in a year.

Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Sean Hassett said the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office may consider more charges.

“The court suggested an additional charge for aggravated white collar crime," Hassett said. "We’ll certainly take that under submission as well. The amount has to be in excess of $500,000. Clearly we’ve met our burden in that regard.”

Judge Hall dismissed prosecutors’ attempts to add tough sentences to charges that Rizzo unlawfully loaned almost $2 million of city money to employees and a local car dealer. Hall said everyone who borrowed has repaid those loans.

Rizzo’s attorney James Spertus said he’s eager to present evidence during the trial.

“We have the D.A.'s office with the luxury of a a full investigation making allegations that the court struck. So there’s a very significant message buried in that ruling and I hope the pubic picks up on it."

Judge Hall determined that Rizzo and his assistant Angela Spaccia drew up their own salary contracts without City Council approval. He described e-mail exchanges in which Spaccia apparently bragged about the big payouts as “the smoking gun.”

The judge also ordered two Bell City Council members to stand trial.

Rizzo and the other defendants face arraignment in two weeks. The ruling follows days after Bell city voters recalled former councilmembers and elected five new officeholders to the Council.

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