Los Angeles News

Bell prelim. hearing closing arguments wrap

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lawyers at Robert Rizzo's preliminary hearing say the former Bell city manager didn't do anything illegal. That hearing is now very close to wrapping up.

The preliminary hearing for Robert Rizzo and others indicted in a Bell corruption scandal is close to completion.

Lawyers at Robert Rizzo's preliminary hearing say the former Bell city manager didn't do anything illegal. That hearing is now very close to wrapping up.

James Spertus, attorney for Rizzo says his client never broke the law, despite a huge salary, perks, benefits and alleged corruption.

Final arguments did wrap up Wednesday afternoon. The prosecution said all counts must stand.

"We want our money back, we want them to go to jail," said Bell resident Donna Gannon.

Bell residents denounce their disgraced city leaders. Prosecutors charged the four former city officials with a total of 61 felony counts.

Fifty-four charges target former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, a "godfather" figure, according to the district attorney, who authorized loans to buy loyalty.

"Money is power and Mr. Rizzo used the city's money to gain power for himself to take control of that city, and to run that city exactly the way he wanted it run," said prosecutor Sean Hassett.

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.

"Mr. Rizzo is not concocting some devious scheme to profit himself. He's trying to keep a qualified workforce," said Spertus. "He's approving the distribution to employees of their own money, and he's behaving in a manner consistent with the custom and practice of the city of Bell for decades."

The defense for Rizzo's assistant, Angela Spaccia, who faces four counts: She received a legitimate city-funded loan. She did not authorize any loans as she didn't have that power.

"Yet it was Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Rizzo alone who alone had control over the city's funds," said Spaccia's defense attorney, Russ Petty.

Former Bell City Councilman Luis Artiga faces two counts, and former Mayor Oscar Hernandez faces a single count for receiving a loan.

Prosecutors say the defendants as officials had a special responsibility to protect Bell's money.

"[Hernandez] had nothing to do with the implementation of the loan program," said Stanley Friedman, Hernandez's defense attorney. "He was just one of at least 44 borrowers, four of whom were the police chiefs or at some point police chief of the city of Bell."

But the prosecutor accuses Rizzo of building power by ensuring top city leaders were beholden to him

"He also wanted to make sure nobody was in a position to stop him when he came down to payroll and demanded more and more of the city's money," said Hassett.

The judge in the hearing says that 9 a.m. Thursday, he will have a decision on whether all four former city officials should be held over for a full trail on all 61 counts.

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