Update 12:26 p.m. One of the key players in the massive corruption scheme in the city of Bell has been sentenced to 11 years and eight months in prison.
Angela Spaccia left the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit and in chains after Judge Kathleen Kennedy issued the sentence. The judge said "It was all about the money,” calling Spaccia “a con artist” and a criminal whose weapon was the public trust. The judge also ordered the former Bell assistant city administrator pay back more than $8 million.
Spaccia’s lawyer repeatedly tried to argue that former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo was the mastermind behind the scheme to pad paychecks. The judge pointedly said Spaccia “has tried to portray herself as the victim. But she is no victim.”
After sentencing , prosecutor Sean Hassett said Rizzo and Spaccia worked together in an “unholy matrimony.” The deputy district attorney said “they didn’t meet a dollar they didn’t want to steal from the city of Bell.”
Spaccia’s lawyer says she will appeal. But she may remain behind bars for a couple of years as the appeals process goes forward.
Sentencing for Rizzo is scheduled for next week.
— Shirley Jahad
Update 10:58 a.m. The city of Bell's former assistant manager, Angela Spaccia, has been sentenced to 11 years and eight months in prison stemming from public corruption charges, plus she's been ordered to pay back more than $8 million in restitution.
— Shirley Jahad
Previously: Nearly four years after a small Los Angeles suburb was rocked by a corruption scandal of massive proportions, seven top officials who masterminded the theft of millions of dollars are having their final days in court — with some facing the prospect of lengthy prison terms.
The city of Bell's former assistant manager, Angela Spaccia, was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday for misappropriation of public funds, conspiracy, falsification of government records and other crimes. Spaccia, who was convicted in December, faces as much as 17 years in prison, though the prosecutor was pushing for 13 years Thursday.
At her sentencing, current Bell city councilman Violeta Alvarez asked for Spaccia to get the maximum sentence.
Spaccia's lawyer Harland Braun argued that former Bell manager Robert Rizzo was "again trying to duck" and should testify in Spaccia's sentencing to show that he was the mastermind in the city's corruption, but the judge ruled that Rizzo did not have to testify.
"She has suffered enormously, as has the city of Bell, under Rizzo," Braun said.
Deputy L.A. District Attorney Sean Hassett said that it was clear Spaccia stole Bell money and laughed while doing it for years.
"She just went down to payroll and paid herself millions of dollars," Hassett said. "As soon as Ms. Spaccia came to the city, she began to work on a special pension plan for herself and Rizzo."
"They just kept taking that money," he added. "What they did wasn't just criminal. It was so outrageous."
The argument over whether Rizzo should testify was followed by emotional testimony from Bell citizens.
On Wednesday, five former members of the Bell City Council pleaded no contest to two counts each of misappropriating public funds, according to the Associated Press. They face terms ranging from probation to four years when they are sentenced in June and July.
Rizzo is to be sentenced next week after pleading no contest to 69 counts of fraud, misappropriation of public funds and other charges. He is expected to be sentenced to about eight years.
"This is the most significant public corruption case our office has ever prosecuted," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said after Spaccia was convicted.
At the time she was fired by Bell in 2010, Spaccia had an annual salary of $564,000. Rizzo had an annual salary and compensation package of $1.5 million, and each of the council members was getting about $100,000.
Prosecutors said former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members George Cole, Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal and Victor Bello inflated their salaries by creating several sham boards and commissions that rarely met, accomplished nothing and really existed only to pay them.
As part of their plea bargain, they are barred from ever seeking public office again and must make restitution to Bell. Prosecutors and city officials estimate they owe about $1 million.
During their trial, the council members and their attorneys said it was Rizzo who masterminded the scheme that nearly bankrupted the working-class city of 36,000 where more than a quarter of the residents live below the federal poverty line.
An audit by the state controller's office found Bell illegally raised property taxes, business-license fees and other sources of revenue to keep the money flowing. At one point homeowners in Bell, where the annual median household income is about $36,000, paid higher property taxes than those living in Beverly Hills.
In all, authorities say the city was looted of more than $5.5 million.
The breadth of the scandal, which former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley once described as "corruption on steroids," shocked both the nation and the city.
Thousands of Bell residents organized a recall campaign after learning of the salaries and subsequently voted all of the council members out of office.
— Shirley Jahad with AP