Former Bell chief administrator Robert Rizzo, the central figure in a corruption probe that enveloped more than a half-dozen leaders from the small city, was sentenced today to 33 months in federal prison for tax evasion.
U.S. District Judge George H. King ordered that the sentence be served consecutively – or on top of – whatever sentence Rizzo receives later this week when he is sentenced on 69 corruption counts in Los Angeles Superior Court. Rizzo, who formerly owned a home in Huntington Beach, faces 10 to 12 years in prison in that case, with sentencing set for Wednesday.
Rizzo’s plea to corruption counts in Superior Court had indicated that his state sentence would run concurrently – or at the same time – as the federal sentence.
King also ordered Rizzo to pay nearly $256,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. The judge also recommended, but did not order, that Rizzo undergo mental health counseling while in prison.
Rizzo, who was paying himself as much as $1.1 million as Bell’s top administrator, pleaded guilty in January to federal counts of conspiracy and filing a false federal income tax return.
Federal prosecutors said that from 2005 through 2010, the year he was fired from his job as Bell’s city manager, Rizzo, 60, claimed more than $770,000 in phantom losses on his tax returns, further inflating take-home pay that had reached $1.18 million a year.
The phony losses “operated to substantially offset the increasing wages defendant received from his employment with the city of Bell,” according to Rizzo’s plea agreement.
Rizzo, who was not immediately taken into custody, declined to make any comment during his sentencing hearing.
Federal prosecutors wrote in court papers that Rizzo’s conduct as Bell’s chief administrator “can only be described as corrupt.”
“Defendant abused his position to fleece the city of Bell of hundreds of thousands of dollars that he paid to himself in excessive salary – monies that could have been spent for the benefit of the people he served,” prosecutors wrote. “But not satisfied with betraying the trust placed in him by the city and its residents, in an extraordinary display of greed, defendant also found it necessary to cheat the IRS.”
Angela Spaccia, Rizzo’s second-in-command in Bell, was convicted of 11 counts of corruption in Superior Court and sentenced to almost 12 years in state prison last week. She has not been charged federally. However, she is referred to in Rizzo’s federal court documents as “A.S.,’ along with her company, Sheffield Management Corp.
Rizzo’s plea agreement says the two of them cost the IRS more than $300,000.
The accountant in the scheme, Robert J. Melcher of Calabasas, pleaded guilty last year to aiding and abetting the filing of a false tax return. He is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court later this year.
Five ex-Bell City Council members were found guilty last year in Superior Court on felony counts of misappropriating public funds through exorbitant salaries.
They accepted plea deals last week in which they pleaded no contest to two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds. They are facing sentences that could range from probation to four years in state prison.
By FRED SHUSTER / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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