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8 Bell officials plead not guilty to felonies

October 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Eight current and former officials accused of stealing from the city of Bell pleaded not guilty during an arraignment hearing on Thursday.In a surprising move in the courtroom, the district attorney's office filed two new charges against former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo. The felony counts are separate from the other charges that also involve his seven co-defendants.

Rizzo is accused of conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds. He is out on bail but has an electronic monitoring device that he was ordered to wear.

Prosecutors on Thursday wanted Rizzo's bail set at $2.4 million on those additional charges, which could have sent him back to jail. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Hilleri G. Merritt ruled that the $2 million that Rizzo had already posted was sufficient.

Merritt ordered the accused eight to return to court Dec. 8 for a preliminary hearing.

None of the eight spoke in court except to say "yes" when Merritt asked if they were agreeable to the hearing date. The not guilty pleas were entered by their attorneys.

An audit released by the state controller showed new evidence of mismanagement: Public money dedicated to affordable housing and maintaining roads was used to pay for unlawful expenses and excessive salaries.

According to the audit, former city manager Robert Rizzo was paid $66,000 out of the housing fund and $171,000 from another city redevelopment account.

Rizzo's annual salary and benefits package combined for about $1.5 million, while one in six people in Bell live in poverty.

The housing fund was also used to pay for cell phones, car washes, landscaping and uniforms.

An audit of gas tax funds found that more than $200,000 was paid to private contractors who were overpaid. Some of the money was also used for services that are not authorized to be paid for using those funds.

The state controller said the city must now reimburse the gas tax fund more than $500,000.


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