Bell Officials Plead Not Guilty

The city officials accused of ripping off about $5.5 million from taxpayers face arraignment

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The former Bell city manager arrives at a downtown LA courthouse.

    The eight current and former Bell city officials accused of bilking taxpayers out of roughly $5.5 million through hefty salaries, benefits and illicit loans of public money pleaded not guilty Friday in a downtown LA courtroom.

    The eight were arrested early Sept. 21 in connection with charges of  misappropriation of public funds.

    Former City Manager Robert Rizzo, 56; former Assistant City Manager  Angela Spaccia, 52; Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 63; City Council members Teresa  Jacobo, 52, and George Mirabal, 60, and former council members Luis Artiga, 49,  George Cole, 60, and Victor Bello, 51, made their first court appearance Sept.  22. Since then, all but Mirabal and Cole have posted bail and been released  from jail.

    Rizzo Arrives for Arraignment

    [LA] Rizzo Arrives for Arraignment
    The former Bell city manager arrives at a downtown LA courthouse.

    A hearing for seven of the defendants was set for Dec. 8, when a date will be set for a preliminary hearing. A  hearing was scheduled for Friday to hear motions related to Mirabal.

    Prosecutors filed more charges Thursday against the former city manager.

    Bell City Council Meets

    [LA] Bell City Council Meets
    The Bell City Council met Monday night for the first time since eight city officials were arrested last month.

    Prosecutors filed two new charges -- conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds -- against Rizzo. According to the LA Times, which broke the story about the Bell salary scandal:

    The new charges are in connection to Dennis Tarango, the city's privately contracted planning director. The city has paid Tarango's engineering firms more than $10.4 million since 1995. Tarango is also a business partner with Rizzo in a horse-racing venture.

    Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder said it was a conflict of interest because Rizzo could not  influence a decision in which he may have had a financial stake. Tarango is not a public offical and will not be charged, she said.

    After arriving with two bodyguards Thursday, Rizzo filed a complaint asking the city to pay for his attorneys.

    "Mr. Rizzo is presently defending two actions on his own, despite his  contractual right to a defense from the city of Bell," according to Rizzo's  cross-complaint, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. "A declaration  is necessary at this time so that Mr. Rizzo can receive from the city ... the  indemnification and defense to which he is entitled."

    Rizzo's 1996 employment agreement with Bell entitles him to the payments, but city officials denied the request, according  to his court papers.

    Spaccia was charged with four felony counts of misappropriation of  public funds.

    The criminal complaint alleges that the former city manager  misappropriated more than $1.9 million in public funds by giving unauthorized  loans, including $80,000 to himself and more than $300,000 to Spaccia. Others  receiving unauthorized loans included employees of the police department,  recreation department, community services, code enforcement and business  offices, according to the complaint.

    The complaint also alleges that Rizzo "did steal, remove, secrete,  destroy, mutilate, deface, alter and falsify" documents involving his  September 2008 employment agreements with the city for him to serve as  executive director of the city's Public Financing Authority, Solid Waste and  Recycling Authority, Community Housing Authority and Surplus Property  Authority.

    Collectively, the defendants bilked the city's taxpayers out of about  $5.5 million, Cooley said.

    Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down in July after the salary  scandal broke. City Council members, who were earning almost $100,000 a year,  significantly slashed their pay, but have balked at calls for their  resignations. 

    Cooley noted that the investigation was continuing, and that further  charges were possible.