- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A former city official who became a symbol of municipal greed was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison - less than half the time it will take the nearly bankrupt Los Angeles suburb of Bell to dig itself out of the estimated $150 million in debt he left behind.

A judge also ordered former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo to make $8.8 million in restitution, but prosecutors say that only covers the money he illegally took for himself.

In all, Rizzo cost the modest city more than $150 million in legal fees and illegally collected taxes that must be repaid, said prosecutors and Bell officials.

“That resulted in borrowing that will not be paid back until 2040,” Anthony Taylor, an attorney representing the city of Bell, told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy.

Rizzo was arrested in 2010 after it was revealed that he was paying himself an annual salary and benefits package of $1.5 million to run a city where a quarter of the population lives below the federal poverty line. His $800,000 in wages alone was double that of the president of the United States.

His top assistant had a salary and benefits package of $564,000 and most Bell City Council members were getting about $100,000 a year. Several other top officials were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia was sentenced last week to nearly 12 years in prison and five former council members face as much as four years when they are sentenced later this year.

Kennedy, however, said the entire scam could be traced to Rizzo.

Rizzo was controlling everything,” the judge said, noting he doled out millions of dollars in illegal loans to pretty much anybody who asked and raised salaries to levels the judge called “absolutely ridiculous.”

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

When somebody did complain, Kennedy said, Rizzo got rid of them, and when some members of the public began to catch on, he falsified public records to hide the fraud.

Rizzo, who was Bell’s city manager for 18 years, told the judge he ran “a very good, tight ship” for the first 12 years but then went astray when he began to put himself, not city residents, first.

“I’m very, very sorry for that. I apologize for that. If I could go back and make changes, I would,” he said.

By the time he was arrested, Rizzo had amassed a fortune. He owned a horse ranch in Washington state, several thoroughbred racehorses and an expensive home in Huntington Beach.

Kennedy said she appreciated the apology.

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