Robert Rizzo Gets 12 Years in Prison and $8.8 Million Restitution Order: Update

See the update at the end of this post on Robert Rizzo's state-court sentence and apology.

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ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 15, 6:37 A.M.: Former City of Bell chief administrator Robert Rizzo was sentenced Monday to 33 months in federal prison for tax evasion, as part of a plea deal that included Jabba the Corrupt admitting he spent $120,000 in ill-gotten loot on construction at his former Huntington Beach home.

We're guessing it was for wider archways and reinforced floors.

U.S. District Court Judge George H. King in Los Angeles said at sentencing Rizzo was consumed by "greed in cheating the taxpayers of the United States after cheating the citizens of Bell," proving yet again that greed is very fattening.

OC Weekly's Robert Rizzo archives

(Some favorites from our archives above includes posts on his Surf City home getting covered in toilet paper, whipping cream and chocolate pudding--along with a sign reading "PUDDIN' ON THE SHITS"--before Rizzo sold it, and the one of him being spotted sweeping up at the local Goodwill store to satisfy court ordered community service.)

Speaking of orders, King directed Rizzo to serve the federal sentence consecutively--as opposed to concurrently or at the same time as--whatever term he receives later this week for 69 corruption counts in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Defense attorney James Spertus told City News Service outside court that he believes the state and federal sentences would ultimately be served in tandem, despite King's ruling, calling it the Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy's call. Rizzo faces 10 to 12 years in prison when Kennedy sentences him Wednesday.

If Spertus is wrong and his client can have both sentences run one after the other, the max Rizzo is looking at is just shy of 14 years, which can be viewed as a positive when one considers: 1) Prison rape is unlikely given his Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloon-worthy figure; b) The 60-year-old will finally be able to lose that tonnage.

By that time, Rizzo will already be lighter in the wallet, as King also ordered nearly $256,000 in restitution be paid to the Internal Revenue Service. The judge also stipulated Rizzo serve two years of supervised release after he's set free and recommended mental health counseling in the big house.

Rizzo, who once paid himself $1.1 million as tiny, working-class Bell's top administrator, pleaded guilty in January under a plea deal to federal counts of conspiracy and filing a false federal income tax return. He'd been accused of claiming more than $770,000 in phantom losses on his tax returns between 2005-2010.

A statement from federal prosecutors indicates Rizzo poured $120,000 of his ill-gotten loot into construction at the Huntington Beach home he later sold before moving to Torrance.

In his plea agreement, Rizzo admitted that he created a corporation to fraudulently claim losses on his income tax return, which served to illegally reduce his tax liability on the significant income he was receiving from the city of Bell. Rizzo also admitted claiming personal expenses as business deductions.

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Rizzo's "conduct can only be described as corrupt," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed with the court. Not only did Rizzo fleece the city of Bell and its residents, he also bilked the Internal Revenue Service "in an extraordinary display of greed."

According to court documents, Rizzo, sometime in 2002, created an S Corporation that he called R.A. Rizzo Incorporated (RARI). Rizzo was assisted in the scheme by co-conspirators that included his tax preparer, Robert J. Melcher, who has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the filing of a false tax return.

Rizzo used RARI to claim bogus losses in relation to a purported rental property in Auburn, Washington. RARI's corporate tax return fraudulently deducted more than $571,530 in losses for the years 2006 through 2009.

Rizzo also admitted in his plea agreement that he used a RARI account to pay for more than $80,000 in personal expenses in 2009 and $120,000 in construction work on his residence in Huntington Beach in 2010. RARI's tax returns falsely claimed that these expenses were related to rental property.

Rizzo "abused his position to fleece the city of Bell of hundreds of thousands of dollars that he paid to himself in excessive salary--monies that could have been spent for the benefit of the people he served," according to the government's sentencing memorandum. "But not satisfied with betraying the trust place in him by the city and its residents, in an extraordinary display of greed, [Rizzo] also found it necessary to cheat the IRS."

Melcher, who as a result of his guilty plea faces a sentence of up to three years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced on May 12 by Judge King.

In the state case, Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 counts of public corruption. His former second-in-command Angela Spaccia was convicted of 11 counts of corruption in Superior Court and sentenced last week to nearly 12 years in state prison. She has not been charged federally.

UPDATE, FEB. 16, 11:02 A.M.: Saying "Mr. Rizzo, you did a lot of very bad things for a very long time," Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy in Los Angeles sentenced Robert Rizzo to 12 years in state prison and ordered him to pay $8.8 million in restitution.

However, despite a federal judge's desire to have the 33-month sentence he imposed on Rizzo for tax evasion be served on top of the state court punishment, Kennedy allowed both sentences to be served concurrently.

"I did breach the public's confidence and I apologize," Rizzo said in some of his first words spoken in public since becoming the poster boy for public corruption. The former Bell city administrator promised, "I'll never do anything like this again, I'll never have the opportunity to do this again."

His attorney sought leniency on grounds Rizzo admitted to wrongdoing "from day one"--an assertion shot down by the prosecution, who noted that before the proceedings in Kennedy's courtroom started several months ago, they had to fight a motion by Rizzo to have the taxpayers of Bell pay for his defense.

One of those taxpayers certainly wasn't buying the contrition act, telling the television reporter of Rizzo, "I don't think he's remorseful."

A week before the former Huntington Beach resident's trial was to begin, he pleaded no contest in October to 69 charges against him, including multiple counts of misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, perjury by declaration and falsification of public records by an official custodian, falsification of an official record and secretion of an official record as well as lone count of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!



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