It's good to be king? Not always. According to allegation, Robert Rizzo, the former city administrator of Bell, Calif., could have been the king of swindling public sector employees not so long ago. Now? Rizzo just pleaded no contest to 69 counts in his corruption trial, according to a Los Angeles County District Attorney's office press release. And he's likely to get the "the longest prison term for public corruption" -- the judge says 10 to 12 years -- in the area since 2000.
Rizzo's plea was a surprise to everyone, including the DA, and came less than a week before a jury was to be chosen. The DA's office calls the move "an open plea" to the presiding judge and was not a negotiated settlement.
Rizzo was part of an alleged corruption ring that reportedly included his one-time deputy and co-defendant, former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, according to the DA's statement. Her trial is scheduled to start on Monday. In addition, five former Bell elected officials -- including a mayor, vice-mayor, and three council members -- were already found guilty in March.
The ring was reportedly as brazen as it was large. The five former officials paid themselves salaries topping off at $100,000 a year in a city of 35,000 people, 25 percent of whom lived below the poverty line. An audit had found that the officials illegally raised local taxes and fees to fund their salaries.
They were pikers compared to what allegedly went on elsewhere. Rizzo's paycheck reportedly reached a $1.5 million peak in a year when he had 107 vacation days and 36 sick days. According to the DA's office, his salary before he resigned in July 2010 was just under what must have seemed in comparison a paltry $800,000. To put that into context, that's about double what the President of the United States makes.
According to television station KTLA, Rizzo was charged with a variety of schemes that cost the city millions of dollars, including writing his own employment contracts that never received City Council approval. Apparently, Rizzo is claiming that Spaccia was the real mastermind behind the fraud.
If only allegations of questionable practices stopped there, but they don't. Randy Adams, a former police chief of Bell, was ousted in 2010 amidst the larger pay scandal. He had been making $457,000 a year, not including benefits. Throw those in and the amount rose to total compensation of $770,046. Last year he sued the city for his severance pay, claiming that he was forced out -- no, really? -- and had never agreed to give up his severance. During the suit, he was drawing a $22,000 monthly pension.
Another official fired in 2010, city prosecutor Eric Eggena, received total compensation of $421,000, including a clause that required the city to pay his portion of FICA taxes and double accumulation of sick and vacation time. He wasn't criminally charged and, last year, decided to sue for back pay of $837,000: 18 months of severance in addition to 192 vacation days and 137 sick days.