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4 Bell ex-officials ordered to stand trial

March 10, 2011 12:41:43 AM PST
A judge on Thursday ordered former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo, assistant Angela Spaccia, now-recalled Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former City Councilman Luis Artiga to stand trial.

Altogether, they face 61 criminal counts. Rizzo faces 54 counts.

Prosecutors contend Rizzo, 57, acted like a mob godfather figure, handing out loans to the others while at the same time enriching himself and boosting his salary into the millions.

Judge Henry J. Hall says Rizzo and Spaccia wrote their own secret employment contracts with a clear intent to mislead the public. Those contracts made them among the highest paid city employees in the country.

The judge called those "scheme salaries" that are "bloated and clearly illegal." He said the smoking gun on the issue was e-mails by Spaccia bragging about the situation.

The judge also blasted the defendants for their involvement with phony government boards. He said one board only met for one minute, and their only agenda item was to give their members raises.

Hall said Artiga and Hernandez were wrong to delegate their fiscal duties to Rizzo and then accept loans from him.

The defense contends that the loans were really administrative agreements that allowed employees to borrow against accrued vacation time. The money was paid back with interest in a program to retain valued workers.

An attorney for Spaccia, who faces four counts, argued that she received a legitimate city-funded loan. She did not authorize any loans as she didn't have that power.

Artiga faces two counts, and Hernandez faces a single count for receiving a loan.

An arraignment hearing is scheduled for March 24. Rizzo will be in another preliminary hearing on Tuesday for two other counts.

Rizzo was initially accused of misappropriating $2 million. The figure now may be closer to $6 million.