No one does corruption like Bell, California. The Los Angeles suburb doesn't have much in the way of people (population: 40,000) or money (more than a quarter of its residents live below the poverty line). But that didn't stop elected officials like City Manager Robert Rizzo from using the city's coffers as their very own petty-cash drawer.
Rizzo wasn't the only Bell leader stealing loot. In fact, a Los Angeles Times invesitgation revealed that nearly everyone -- from the mayor to the city council to the police chief -- was on the take. But amongst an orchard's worth of bad apples, Rizzo was the baddest.
Including benefits, Rizzo's salary was nearly $1.5 million a year, about 10 times the average for a city manager. And an audit revealed that in order to receive compensation equivalent to a decent middle-infielder, Rizzo had to approve the illegal doubling of taxes on sewer, trash and other city services without voter approval.
Think of it as a bank heist, only without the masks and weaponry. And according to The Seattle Times, robbing Bell afforded Rizzo the opportunity to move north and race the ponies.
In 2004, Rizzo bought a 10-acre waterfront home just minutes away from Emerald Downs. He also purchased an unknown number of Thoroughbreds, one of whom won him a $100,000 stakes race back in 2006.
The Times talked to some of Rizzo's track buddies, who are all shocked that the friendly guy in the next paddock over was a huge white-collar whale:
Horse trainer Mike Chambers said Rizzo is "not flamboyant in any direction." The two had just been out to dinner, and Chambers paid.Corrupt and cheap? This guy is a double-threat!
"You'd never know he had a cent," Chambers said.
For fleecing an entire municipality, Rizzo and Bell's seven other public officials are now facing felony charges of misappropriating somewhere in the range of $65 million in city funds. If convicted, he'll be out of the horse-racing game and will most likely have all of his property, including another fancy vacation home in Huntington Beach, seized and re-sold to pay off his debts.
Rizzo also has one more bit of legal trouble to contend with. In March he was pulled over for suspicion of drunken driving. He blew a.28, three-and-a-half times the legal limit, and is now getting treatment for alcohol abuse.