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City of Bell shouldn't count on being paid back by Rizzo, Spaccia

Former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo owes the city millions in restitution, but is
Former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo owes the city millions in restitution, but is "penniless."
Nick Ut/AP

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There’s a good chance the City of Bell will never see the money misappropriated by its convicted former city manager Robert Rizzo and his deputy, Angela Spaccia. Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree the two former city officials are “penniless.”

A state court judge ordered both to pay nearly $9 million in restitution to Bell for illegally authorizing exorbitant salaries and loans to themselves and members of the city council. Five former council members also have agreed to plead no contest to corruption charges.

There’s a twist: it’s a joint debt.  Together, Rizzo and Spaccia were ordered to pay $8.8 million – the amount a judge determined was misappropriated. The judge likely will order the former council members to help pay too.

When Rizzo resigned four years ago, his annual salary in the tiny Southeast L.A. County city was about $780,000.

“Most of it was squandered on either real estate or horses,” said City of Bell attorney Anthony Taylor. Rizzo owned a horse farm in Washington State and a home in Huntington Beach home, but he had little or no equity when they were sold, Taylor said.

Taylor is still hoping to recover at least some of the money.

“I want to drill down,” he said. “If there are third parties that have that money, we will seize those accounts.” 

Future Rizzo earnings are fair game too, said L.A. Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett, who prosecuted Rizzo.

“If he makes money, its collectable,” Hassett said.

But Rizzo’s attorney predicts his client will be unemployable after serving a 12-year prison sentence. Rizzo is 60 years old. He’ll likely serve six years after good time credit.

“He’ll get out in a few years and retire,” said Rizzo's attorney, James Spertus. He notes Rizzo last year handed over about $240,000 in retirement funds. 

The attorney for Spaccia, 55, said she’ll be unemployable too after serving her 12-year sentence. He argues there’s little point in finding work anyway.

“What advantage would you have in acquiring assets if all you did was have them seized?,” said Harland Braun.

Braun said Spaccia has no money after two homes she owned went into foreclosure. She currently owns a home in the San Fernando Valley, but it has little equity, according to her attorney. Spacia's handicapped son lives there.

Spaccia already is in county jail, awaiting transfer to state prison. Rizzo is currently staying with his wife and daughter in an apartment before he goes to federal prison, where he will serve time on his federal tax evasion conviction.