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In Bell scandal, spotlight shifts to Angela Spaccia

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemCrimeFinanceRentalsBusinessCity of Bell Public Corruption Scandal

One of the most infamous pieces of evidence in the long-running Bell corruption case came in a chain of emails between Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and Randy Adams, the incoming police chief of the small, working-class city.

"I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money?! Okay ... just a share of it!!," Adams wrote to Spaccia.

She responded: "LOL ... well you can take your share of the pie ... just like us!!! We will all get fat together ... [Robert Rizzo] has an expression he likes to use on occasion. Pigs get Fat ... Hogs get slaughtered!!!! So as long as we're not Hogs ... All is well!"

As Rizzo's longtime deputy, Spaccia enjoyed the hefty perks lavished on top officials. She earned nearly $400,000 a year and took hundreds of thousands of dollars in unauthorized loans from the city.

But she also appeared to work in the shadow of her boss, who ruled Bell for 17 years.

Now Rizzo says that Spaccia was the real mastermind behind the corruption at City Hall. He surprised many people this week by pleading no contest to 69 felony charges of misappropriating public funds, hiding and falsifying records, perjury and other crimes. His attorney said Rizzo will cooperate with prosecutors in their case against his former assistant.

That leaves Spaccia alone to face the most serious charges in the sweeping corruption scandal, which already resulted in guilty verdicts against five former council members.

Records show that Spaccia was intimately involved in some of the alleged misdeeds.

But interviews and evidence presented by prosecutors paint a less convincing picture that she masterminded the fiscal schemes.

"There was one architect and his name is Robert Rizzo," said former Bell Councilman Luis Artiga, the one official acquitted earlier this year of corruption charges. "It's obvious; he was manipulative, he lied, he cheated."

Spaccia faces 13 felony counts of public corruption. Jury selection for her case will begin Monday, and the trial could begin Oct. 22. Rizzo's attorney said his client and Spaccia are expected to also face federal tax fraud charges within the next few weeks.

As Bell's assistant city manager, Spaccia was paid more than $376,000, an outsized paycheck for the job but far less than Rizzo's $800,000 salary and the nearly half-million-dollar salary of Bell's police chief, whose contract prosecutors say she helped draft and conceal from the public.

In court documents filed by prosecutors, Spaccia emerges as a significant player in various schemes to raid the city treasury and enrich Rizzo and herself — but also as one who often deferred to her boss.

Spaccia, prosecutors allege, worked with Rizzo to come up with a generous retirement package for the two of them. Although Spaccia was the main contact with the bank that set up the fund, she often said she needed to check with Rizzo before making decisions, according to the grand jury testimony of Alan Pennington, the bank employee who helped set up the account.

"I believe Mr. Rizzo was really the decision-maker in these situations," Pennington testified.

The criminal case also shows that Spaccia and Rizzo created a liberal policy allowing them to cash in large amounts of sick and vacation time, clearing the way for them to inflate their total compensation packages. The two also schemed to split the police chief's salary into two contracts to help conceal how large it was, prosecutors alleged.

In addition, authorities said they discovered that Spaccia's computer was used in 2005 to generate a contract that gave her large raises without council approval. "A substantial portion of her compensation from the city of Bell appears to have been obtained feloniously," Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman wrote in 2010.

Since she was arrested three years ago, Spaccia has been consistent about one thing: She says she didn't do anything wrong.

Spaccia says she wasn't even in the city when many of the criminal acts took place. Rather, she said, she was caring for her son after he was severely injured in a motorcycle crash, and then for her dying grandfather. She also had several surgeries that kept her from work, she said.

"If I could do my life in Bell over, there's no doubt about it, I would ask more questions," she said in a 2011 interview with The Times.

When she came to work in Bell in 2002, she said, Rizzo was a good, albeit controlling, manager. She commuted 11/2 to two hours each way to Bell from her home in Northridge, but found the job satisfying at first.

Spaccia said Rizzo removed her from reviewing the city's finances in 2005 after she discovered that a firm collecting rents for city-owned property — owned by a friend of Rizzo — had shorted the city about $30,000.

"I've got bigger, better things for you to do," she said Rizzo told her.

"I bought it. I was such a sucker," Spaccia said. "I was a complete fool."

Her working relationship with Rizzo deteriorated over the years, she said, and by late 2009, Rizzo sent her to serve as city manager of neighboring Maywood. Rizzo, she said, wanted her out of the way because she asked too many questions about Bell's housing authority.

Spaccia said she felt threatened in Maywood and carried a .45-caliber pistol in her purse. "I would sleep with it by my bedside. I thought someone was out to kill me."

She said Bell hired five or six bodyguards for her, and she had a remote starter for her car in case it was booby-trapped.

Two months before she was arrested, she was admitted to a psychiatric ward for several days, she told The Times in 2011. Until recently, she said, she was taking antidepressants and Ambien to sleep.

As the scandal unfolded, Spaccia said, she and Rizzo would speak by phone. "He seemed so confident," she said. "He would call me to try to vent over his frustrations."

Finally one day, she said, Rizzo called her and said he realized he was in trouble.

Since the arrests, she said she fell behind on the payments on her Northridge home and had to sell it. She now shares an apartment with a roommate.

On Friday, she said that if Rizzo tells the truth, she will be exonerated.

As for the 2009 email to Adams, Spaccia said it was simply an attempt to tell Adams "don't get greedy."

And she acknowledged: "I did make too much money."

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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