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Bell scandal: Councilman says Angela Spaccia conviction 'embarrassing'

By Ruben Vives

8:36 AM PST, December 10, 2013

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Bell City Councilman Nestor Valencia said Tuesday that the guilty verdict in the Angela Spaccia corruption trial was "shameful and embarrassing" but nudges the city into the final act of the scandal that broke in 2010.

Spaccia, the $564,000-a-year deputy to the disgraced former city manager of Bell, was found guilty Monday of 11 felony counts related to her role in the corruption scandal, becoming the seventh former city official convicted of enriching themselves at the expensive of the working-class residents.

Spaccia probably faces a sentence similar to the 10 to 12 years in prison that her former boss, Robert Rizzo, is expected to receive, prosecutors said. Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges in October.

While the city is still recovering financially from the scandal, Valencia said there have been some strides made toward improvement, such as the Spaccia verdict and Rizzo's plea and the anticipation of major lawsuit settlements to recoup some damages.

"The wheels of justice move slowly," he said.

The community, meanwhile, has been pleased with the outcome since news of the officials' high salaries broke.

"I think the jury has become the new hero of the city of bell," Valencia said.

Spaccia and her attorney argued in court that Rizzo was behind the corruption scheme and that she was not even at City Hall when much of the wrongdoing took place. She admitted that it was unethical to take such large salaries but said she did nothing illegal.

Valencia took issue with that defense.

"She was right in the middle of it," Valencia said.

In the next few days, the city will announce a large settlement involving property and Best Best & Krieger, the law firm that represented the city before the scandal broke.

The city of Bell filed a malpractice lawsuit in 2011 against its former city attorney and his two law firms, alleging that they gave faulty legal advice.

The suit contends that attorney Edward Lee provided legal advice that allowed Bell officials -- Rizzo and city council members -- to receive their extraordinary salaries and benefits. The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also alleges that Lee gave the city poor advice regarding a variety of subjects, including business license fees and loans that Rizzo gave to employees.    

The lawsuit singled out Lee's most recent firm, Best Best & Krieger, for allegedly failing to properly advise Bell on a $35-million bond offering in 2007.

Valencia hopes the scandal and exposure of the trial will now encourage citizens to stand up against misconduct by elected officials.

"Rise to the occasion," Valencia said.

And while he was pleased with the jury's verdict, the councilman said it didn't erase the stain of corruption Bell had suffered, both to its image and among its residents.

Bell has one of the highest property taxes in the county, and for many, the scandal was "very emotional because people lost their homes," Valencia said.

"It's shameful and embarrassing," he said. "This should be a heed to elected officials that these type of shenanigans, these type of criminal acts are not tolerated."

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

Twitter: @latvives