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Prosecutors to examine suspicious redevelopment deal in Bell

The city of Bell is unable to account for a missing $425,000 from a 2006 deal in which the city paid more than double the value of a lot — requesting a charitable contribution from the seller — and never redeveloped the land.

March 25, 2011|By Corina Knoll and Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County prosecutors said Thursday that they had opened an inquiry into an unusual redevelopment deal in Bell in which $425,000 is unaccounted for.

The city of Bell bought the land for $1.35 million in 2006, paying more than twice the assessed value as part of a redevelopment deal along Atlantic Avenue. The seller was required to make a "charitable contribution" of $425,000 back to the city, which has been unable to account for the money, records show.

The launching of the inquiry, which followed a Times investigation of the deal came as prosecutors filed additional charges Thursday against former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his ex-assistant, Angela Spaccia, both of whom already face numerous corruption charges.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said its inquiry will try to determine what the city did with the donated funds.

"We have to pursue whether it's an accountancy thing or whether this is a criminal issue," said Jennifer Lentz Snyder, assistant head deputy of the Public Integrity Unit.

The Times requested that the city provide an accounting of the funds. In a letter, Bell City Atty. Jamie Casso said city staffers conducted a "diligent search of its records" but were unable to account for the contribution.

Records and interviews show that Rizzo and former General Services Director Eric Eggena oversaw the purchase and wanted the land as part of a revitalization effort in the city's small business district. The site is home to a carwash. Despite the purchase, no redevelopment project was undertaken.

Rizzo and seven other former city officials have been charged with corruption, mostly related to efforts to conceal their unusually high salaries. All have pleaded not guilty. Eggena was not charged, but authorities last month served search warrants at two homes where he has lived.

In the complaint filed Thursday, Rizzo and Spaccia were each charged with one count of misappropriation of funds for what prosecutors say was Spaccia's excessive compensation and benefits. Spaccia also faces three additional counts of conflict of interest for allegedly writing her own employment contracts that included 12% annual pay increases. She resigned last year with a salary of $376,000.

Spaccia's attorney called the added charges "just as groundless as the current charges" and said it was Rizzo, not his client, who was in charge of employee salaries.

Prosecutors also dropped one count of misappropriation of funds against Rizzo, who faces more than 50 felony charges and is accused of acting outside his authority when he doled out nearly $2 million in loans from the city treasury.

Times staff writer Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.

corina.knoll@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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