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Former Bell city attorney denies signing Rizzo's contracts

Lawyer's signature appears on 2008 paperwork raising base salary to $703,248 but he says he didn't approve any contracts after 2002.

March 05, 2011|By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times
  • After being shown a 2008 document raising Robert Rizzo's salary, former Bell City Atty. Edward Lee said: "I've raised questions how my signature is on that document.
After being shown a 2008 document raising Robert Rizzo's salary,… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Bell's former city attorney testified Friday that while his signature appeared on several of the contracts that gave Robert Rizzo his increasingly lucrative salary, he didn't sign any of them.

Edward Lee testified at Rizzo's preliminary hearing that the former city administrator's last legal contract was approved by the City Council and signed by the city attorney Oct. 21, 2002.

Rizzo is accused of doctoring subsequent contracts that repeatedly boosted his salary. By the time Rizzo resigned in July, his total compensation had swollen to about $1.5 million.

The former city attorney said he never saw the later contracts until they were sent to him last summer for review in answer to a public records request from The Times.

Lee's signature appeared on some contracts, but not on others.

Asked by Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett about his signature on a July 1, 2008, addendum to Rizzo's contract, which would increase his annual base salary to $703,248 the next fiscal year, Lee replied, "I've raised questions how my signature is on that document."

Lee's testimony came as prosecutors were trying to establish that Rizzo had drawn up his own contracts without council approval or signatures from the mayor and city attorney.

Beyond the more than 50 criminal charges he faces, Rizzo could be forced to return the salary increases beyond the 2002 contract if the documents are found to be invalid.

Throughout the hearing, witnesses have testified that Rizzo went great lengths to hide his salary as people began asking the city how much he was paid.

Lee also testified that he had the same concerns with the contracts for Angela Spaccia, Rizzo's assistant chief administrative officer, who also faces corruption charges.

He said her last contract approved by the council and signed by the city attorney's office was dated July 1, 2004, although his signature appeared on later documents. Spaccia's salary eventually hit $376,288 and leaped to $845,960 in total compensation.

James Spertus, Rizzo's attorney, said outside the Los Angeles courtroom that all of Lee's signatures were legitimate. "I think what probably happened is he doesn't remember," Spertus said.

He said that when Lee's signature did not appear on contracts, it was because Rizzo felt that after Bell became a charter city in 2006, he had the authority to approve contracts of others, but not himself. Spertus argues that what his client did was legal.

Spertus also criticized the charter, which Lee drew up. It gave Rizzo more power and allowed council members to boost their salaries. The charter was passed in 2005 in a special election in which fewer than 400 people voted.

"It's the most chaotic, confusing charter imaginable," Spertus said.

Rizzo and seven other current and former city leaders are charged with looting Bell's treasury of more than $5 million. Six of the city leaders, including all but one member of the City Council, have already been ordered to stand trial.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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