Judge rules Robert Rizzo’s horse play leads to conflict of interest

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Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo during a preliminary hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 22, 2011 in Los Angeles.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled on Wednesday that former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo will stand trial on another criminal charge — conflict of interest.

Judge Henry Hall suggested that Rizzo knew the horse racing business he ran with former planning director Dennis Tarango created a conflict. He said Rizzo tried to hide that relationship on disclosure documents he filed with the city of Bell.

Prosecutors accuse Rizzo of improperly steering more than $2 million in city business to Tarango’s firms after their partnership had dissolved.

Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Max Huntsman said he’s satisfied with the judge’s ruling. Looking ahead to the trial, Huntsman said prosecutors have substantial evidence to convict Rizzo.

“We’ve got forged documents to cover up, we’ve got perjury, we’ve got massive amounts of public funds being stuck in his own pocket," he said. "You just tell the jury like it is and I think they’ll come to the right conclusion.”

Rizzo’s attorney, James Spertus, said that seating an impartial jury — even if that means moving the proceedings out of LA County — will help ensure a fair trial.

“We’re gonna dispute the charges head on. I mean that’s the trial plan in a nutshell," said Spertus. "And try to find a jury who will look at the elements that the district attorney’s office will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt instead of focusing on the high salaries.”

In today’s ruling, the judge dismissed a second charge against Rizzo for misappropriation of public funds. Rizzo is scheduled to be arraigned at the end of the month. Prosecutors may file more criminal charges before then.

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