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Rizzo, Deputy Ordered To Stand Trial For Bell Corruption Charges

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The former city manager of Bell along with his top deputy were ordered on Thursday to stand trial on charges of misappropriating millions of dollars from the city’s coffers through lofty salaries and loans of taxpayer money.

Robert Rizzo faces more than 50 counts of fraud, including 44 counts of misappropriation of public funds, six counts of falsification of records by an official custodian, three counts of conflict of interest and one count of public officer crime. He also is charged in a separate case with two counts of misappropriation of public funds.

His former top assistant, Angela Spaccia, is charged with four counts of misappropriation of public funds.

An arraignment has been set for March 24.

During closing arguments of the roughly three-week preliminary hearing, Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett said Wednesday that the pair siphoned about $6.7 million from the city before a public corruption scandal erupted last summer and eight municipal officials were arrested.

Hassett said the pair “self-dealt” themselves millions by writing their own employment contracts and covering it up by creating alternate paperwork to shield themselves.

“They simply took their contracts down to payroll and said, `Pay me,’ and their salaries rose by 50 percent a year,” Hassett told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall.

Rizzo and Spaccia’s attorneys, however, asked Hall to dismiss all charges against the defendants, arguing that prosecutors offered no evidence that the pair did anything that wasn’t legal under Bell’s city charter.

“If he had some secret plan, it’s a crime,” Rizzo’s defense attorney James Spertus said of his client. “That is not the factual record in this case.”

As for Spaccia, attorney Russell Petti said she “had no control over public funds” and “didn’t have the power to give herself raises.”

As part of Hall’s ruling, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former Councilman Luis Artiga were also ordered to stand trial on various charges, and they will also be arraigned March 24.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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