A Toronto city court clerk who changed convictions to acquittals on traffic offences for $50 a pop will spend two years in jail, a judge ruled Thursday.
Francesco Rizzello pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 earlier this year, admitting that he fixed more than 100 tickets in 2018 and that he had scheduled some cases to be before certain justices of the peace, according to an agreed statement of facts.
In years leading up to the ticket-fixing scheme, Rizello had developed a gambling and cocaine addiction and took time off work to go to rehab, according to the statement of facts. Though he recovered, he was left with significant debt from the cost of rehab and the time away from work.
He received about $7,000 for his role in altering the court records, according to the ruling.
After a tipster reported Rizzello to the city, a massive investigation was launched and Rizello was fired. At the time he denied any financial gain or any involvement by anyone else. After the police took over the investigation Rizzello eventually confessed more fully.
The defence argued Rizzello should serve a two year sentence in the community, the Crown argued it should be served in custody.
Superior Court Justice Jane Kelly said she was satisfied Rizzello is remorseful, otherwise of good character, and would not reoffend, but said his sentence must deter others from similar acts.
“Public officials in positions of trust must be severely dealt with in the event they breach their trust,” she said.
There has also been a significant cost to the city not just to investigate but to re-prosecute many of the cases which include careless driving and speeding, she added.
Rizzello was handcuffed and taken into custody after Kelly issued the sentence.
Corruption charges were dropped against three paralegals in 2020, with prosecutors citing delays in obtaining evidence. The fourth — Benito Zappia, whose advertising slogan was “We Win or It’s Free” — is scheduled to go on trial for fraud next January, and he denies the allegations. His paralegal license has been revoked for misconduct unrelated to this case.
With files from Betsy Powell
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati