A former City of Toronto ‘trust’ court clerk pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 on Wednesday for his role in a ticket-fixing scheme after admitting receiving payments from paralegals for altering more of 100 provincial offense notices.
Frank Rizzello, 46, worked at the provincial offenses courthouse at 2700 Eglinton Ave. W. where he “would ensure the original conviction was cleared in favor of an acquittal or dismissal of the charges,” Crown Attorney Michael Coristine said, reading from a joint statement. of facts.
Rizzello did this either by physically falsifying court charging documents, known as briefs, or by replacing a conviction with an acquittal or referral in the computer system that tracks decisions.
The provincial offense charges covered ranged from reckless driving and cell phone offenses to speeding.
“Mr. Rizzello[…]accepts that by fraudulently altering these provisions, he deprived the City of Toronto of at least $15,000 in fines,” the prosecutor said. His bank statements showed 19 separate deposits totaling at least $7,000 between March and June 2018. An anonymous tipster exposed the scam in April 2018, resulting in Rizzello’s suspension in June.
He was fired in November of that year when the city turned over its investigation file to the Toronto police.
Rizzello eventually cooperated with authorities and told them he received about $50 in cash per case from two paralegals. The Agreed Statement of Facts implicates two paralegals originally charged with Rizzello in 2019. The Crown dropped charges against one of them, Ben Bennardo, in 2020, while Benito Zappia, whose advertising slogan was ” We win or it’s free”, is expected to be tried for fraud next January. His paralegal license was revoked after he was found guilty of professional misconduct unrelated to this case.
“Mr. Zappia continues to deny the allegations against him and any wrongdoing,” his attorney, Robert Karrass, wrote in an email to The Star. Karrass added that his client questions the accuracy of the charge. spouse of the facts, read in court on Wednesday.
Contacted by the Star and briefed on the allegations in the joint statement, Bennardo directed the Star to an attorney who did not provide comment.
Bennardo has previously said the allegations against him are unfounded.
According to the Law Society of Ontario website, he is an unrestricted paralegal. He was suspended for five months in 2021 for professional misconduct unrelated to this ticket-rigging case.
An LSO disciplinary officer could be seen observing the court hearing from Zoom on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the LSO declined to say whether any action would be taken.
The City of Toronto has expended considerable effort and resources to investigate and prosecute the scam and will need to spend more now that tickets have been reinstated and many people are seeking to have their cases tried legitimately, the prosecutor said. By the end of August 2018, the city had located all affected records and reinstated sentencing notices to individuals who had previously been notified that they were exonerated.
According to the agreed facts, Rizzello agreed to cooperate with paralegals after incurring a large debt when he took time off from work in 2017 to enter rehab for gambling and drug addiction, Coristine said. He also believed he wouldn’t get caught because of his long tenure with the City of Toronto, where he had worked since 2004.
The prosecution is asking for a prison sentence of two years less a day. Rizzello’s attorney, Gerald Yasskin, will ask Superior Court Judge Jane Kelly to allow Rizzello to serve the same amount of time outside of custody.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 7.
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