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By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Longtime Bell, California, administrator Robert Rizzo was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison, closing the books on a sweeping public corruption scandal that made the small southeast Los Angeles County city synonymous with graft.

Rizzo was also ordered to pay $8,845,000 in restitution to Bell. Some of that amount might be paid by Rizzo’s co-defendant, former deputy city manager Angela Spaccia.

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” L.A. County Superior Court Judge Kathleen G. Kennedy said in sentencing. “That is the theme of what happened in Bell. There were no checks and balances … Rizzo was controlling everything.”

Kennedy said the corruption continued for so long because city leaders were being paid “absolutely ridiculous” salaries.

“Nobody wanted to upset the apple cart because they were paid so well,” she said.

Addressing the defendant, she added: “Mr. Rizzo, you did a lot of very bad things for a very long time.”

Before sentencing, Rizzo issued an apology to residents of the small working-class city.

“I did breach the public confidence,” Rizzo told the court. “I am very, very sorry and I apologize for that.”

Rizzo’s remarks were followed by several public speakers who criticized Rizzo’s actions.

Bell City Councilwoman Violetta Alvarez urged the judge to give Rizzo the maximum sentence, saying she was not swayed by his apology.

“The damage has been done and the money is gone,” she said.

Rizzo was already sentenced to 33 months in federal prison Monday for a tax fraud scheme in which he claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in phony losses, mostly tied to his sprawling horse ranch outside Seattle.

It was unclear whether Rizzo will be required to serve the sentences back to back or allowed to serve them concurrently in a federal institution for nonviolent offenders, rather than a state prison where he would mix with violent felons.

Once the highest paid municipal administrator in California, and possibly the nation, Rizzo became the face of the widespread corruption in Bell, doling out city funds to colleagues and business interests, falsifying public records and misappropriating public funds.

When he was forced to resign in 2010, Rizzo had a total compensation package of roughly $1.5 million a year and was on track to become the highest-paid public pensioner in California when he retired.

Rizzo was ordered to surrender to federal authorities on May 30, but Kennedy could order him to begin serving his time sooner.

Photo: Amy The Nurse via Flickr

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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