When the city of Bell approached Randy Adams to be its police chief, he doubted the small, working-class town could afford him.
Adams, who had recently retired as Glendale's police chief, wanted a salary in excess of $400,000. The city agreed.
"I was surprised that a little city like this could afford to hire me," Adams, 62, testified Wednesday in the corruption trial of Angela Spaccia, the former city official who hired him in 2009.
In taking the stand, Adams spoke publicly for the first time about the Bell scandal, providing fresh details about the inner workings of City Hall.
He testified as a defense witness for Spaccia, backing up her assertion that it was former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, not her, who called the shots in Bell. But at the same time Adams filled in some of the blanks of Spaccia's role.
Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 corruption-related charges last month and is expected to be sentenced to 10 to12 years in prison. He claimed that Spaccia was the mastermind of the corruption.
Spaccia is one of eight Bell officials who were accused of looting the city treasury to pay themselves excessive salaries. Adams was not charged, even though his $457,000 salary was one of the largest paychecks in the city and more than either the Los Angeles police chief or sheriff earned.
Until now, Adams has said little about the Bell scandal. When he was asked about his days in Bell during a pension hearing last year, Adams invoked the 5th Amendment nearly two dozen times. He refused to answer basic questions about the salary or the even larger retirement paycheck he stood to collect.
Adams testified that he was initially reluctant to take the job in Bell because of the long legacy of corruption in southeast Los Angeles County.
Attorneys asked him about several email exchanges with Spaccia. In one, Spaccia wrote: "We have crafted our agreements carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay."
"You didn't see anything criminal about that?" asked Spaccia's lawyer, Harland Braun.
"No, it wasn't as transparent as I would like, but I didn't see anything criminal in it," Adams said. "When I started to analyze it, I realized maybe I was being too picky...."
In another email that has been cited numerous times in the three-year-long corruption case, Adams wrote to Spaccia: "I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money?! Okay ... just a share of it!!"
Spaccia 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!"
Adams on Wednesday described the exchange as being made in jest.
Spaccia also sent Adams an unusual email.
"A photo for my ID on your phone!!! LOL," she wrote to Randy Adams. Attached to the message was a photo of her wearing a white bathrobe and smoking a cigar.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman introduced the photo while asking Adams about his relationship with Spaccia. Adams testified that he'd known Spaccia for 30 years since their days working together in Ventura. "I did not socialize with her, that type of thing," Adams said.
"How many professional acquaintances sent you photos of them in a bathrobe?" asked Huntsman.
Adams gave him a surprised look as Huntsman handed him the photo.
"It's a satirical type photo," Adams told the jury. "Looks comical to me."
Outside court Wednesday, Spaccia said of the photo: "Am I not allowed to have a sense of humor?"
Spaccia, 55, is charged with 13 felony counts, including conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, and hiding and falsifying government records. Adams' contract forms the foundation of one of the charges.
Even in a case that has attracted widespread attention, Adams' decision to take the stand drew spectators who said they had waited years to hear his explanation for what happened in Bell or why the police chief never ferreted out the corruption that took place under his watch.
"It's just a matter of listening to him and hearing the evil deeds they did to the community," Councilman Ali Saleh said. "As an officer of the law, he should have been the person who came forward and exposed the corruption."
When the salary scandal erupted in 2010, Adams was among eight city leaders sued by then-California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who accused them of plotting to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers in the poor, working-class town and then concealing their paychecks.
When the district attorney filed criminal charges days later, Adams was not charged.
Prosecutors explained that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Adams, and that it was "not against the law to make too much money."
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who has presided over the Bell corruption trials, disagreed.
"I don't know why he is not a defendant in this case," Kennedy said during a hearing two years ago. "That is not a man of integrity. This is not the man who is going to clean up the Police Department."
Adams said he was embarrassed by what happened in Bell. "When something sounds too good to be true," he said, "it is."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times