Watch CBSN Live

Ex-city manager pleads no contest in Bell, Calif. pay scandal

LOS ANGELES The former city manager authorities say masterminded a corruption scandalthat bilked the working-class Los Angeles suburb of Bell out of millions of dollars pleaded no contest Thursday to 69 counts of municipal corruption.

Robert Rizzo, who was charged with stealing more than $5 million from the modest, blue-collar city where one in four people lives below the federal poverty line, is scheduled to be sentenced March 12. He is expected to be sent to prison for 10 to 12 years.

"Mr. Rizzo is trying to send a clear message that he accepts responsibility for wrongdoing," his attorney, James Spertus, told The Associated Press. "He made mistakes and he's trying to make amends for that."

Rizzo still faces federal charges and a civil lawsuit filed by the state attorney general, and Spertus said he plans to resolve those cases as well in the weeks ahead. He added that his client will fully cooperate with authorities still prosecuting others in the Bell case and would be willing to testify against his former top assistant, Angela Spaccia.

Both Rizzo and Spaccia were scheduled to go on trial Monday.

"Part of the resolution of all criminal counts in state and federal court is Mr. Rizzo's commitment to cooperate with authorities against Angela Spaccia," Spertus said.

Although a no contest plea does not admit criminal wrongdoing, Spertus said his client acknowledges that he made mistakes during his tenure as Bell's city manager and wants to make amends for them. He also wants to put the Bell episode behind him for his and his family's sake, his attorney said.

Rizzo was accused of masterminding a scam that set up a handful of various boards and commissions that did no work but existed only to pay him and a handful of other city officials huge salaries. He and others were also accused of illegally diverting taxes earmarked for other uses and of illegally raising property taxes to keep paying themselves the exorbitant salaries.

Five former City Council members have been convicted of corruption charges.

Rizzo himself had an annual salary and compensation package of $1.5 million when Bell fired him, making him much better paid than almost any public administrator in the country, including the president of the United States. He oversaw a city of about 39,000 people.

His no contest plea came less than a week before he and Spaccia were scheduled to stand trial together.

"Although we were prepared to go to trial and felt confident we could convict Mr. Rizzo of all charges, we are pleased he chose to admit his guilt and accept full responsibility for the irreparable harm he caused the people of Bell," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement.