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Bell moving forward after Angela Spaccia conviction

The city of Bell is moving forward after the conviction of the former assistant city manager in a corruption trial.
December 10, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The citizens of Bell are celebrating the conviction of Angela Spaccia in the city's corruption trial. The former assistant city manager has been convicted of 11 corruption charges. Now, residents are demanding tough punishment.

"Lock her up. Lock her up. Throw her in," said resident Pedro Ramos.

In a city where paychecks are meager, resentment is plentiful. Spaccia and her former boss, Robert Rizzo, stole $6 million, according to prosecutors. They left the city on the hook for $100 million more. That was the surprise discovery when new Bell City Manager Doug Willmore took over Rizzo's job.

"He basically set up a Ponzi scheme. The city borrowed well over $100 million and a chunk of that money was used to pay high salaries," said Willmore.

The debt landed on the shoulders of taxpayers. Businesses fled, leaving residents to shoulder the burden.

Property taxes in blue collar Bell rival those of Beverly Hills. Bell Mayor Violeta Alvarez says for her two-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a two-car garage, it's $8,000 a year.

Add legal fees to the city's bills. Among multiple lawsuits, the convicted officials sued Bell, claiming breach of contract.

But Willmore says there have been victories, too. Bell sued the attorneys and auditors, alleging malpractice. The lawsuit said contract experts should have caught the misspending and corruption. The parties just reached a settlement.

Other positive news: At the next council meeting, officials will announce that a city property that was improperly purchased by Rizzo has now been sold.

"We sold all of these pieces to one developer, which paid off $38 million in debt as well as netted the city $15 million," said Willmore.

The city's debt was cut in half, and with other settlements, the general fund now is $20 million in the black. The challenge now is bringing back business and spreading the tax burden.

Meantime, many people wonder what ever happened to the millions of dollars that Rizzo and Spaccia got while they were working for the city. The district attorney's office has conducted an asset search and they found nothing. The two had either spent the money or they lost it -- Spaccia on real estate, and Rizzo on race horses.


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