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Huge Bell salaries based on 'secret formula,' prosecutor tells jury

City of Bell Public Corruption Scandal

Angela Spaccia, the former second-in-command in the scandal-plagued city of Bell, went on trial Wednesday in a case that could establish who was the mastermind of the wrongdoing that made the working-poor city a symbol for municipal graft.

In opening statements, Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman told jurors that the extreme salaries in Bell were based on a "secret formula the public could never find out."

Spaccia has pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of public corruption.

FULL COVERAGE: Corruption in Bell

The former administrator is the last of eight onetime city leaders and elected officials in Bell to go on trial in the sweeping corruption case, which exploded in 2010 when the city’s huge salaries and generous benefit packages were exposed

Spaccia has said that her former boss, Robert Rizzo, was behind the wrongdoing in the Los Angeles County city.

Rizzo, however, pointed the finger at Spaccia when he pleaded no contest to 69 corruption-related charges earlier this month. The former city boss’ attorney said that Spaccia was the actual architect of the high salaries, doctored paperwork and other alleged crimes that left the small town on the edge of bankruptcy.

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After pleading no contest, Rizzo, through his attorney, vowed that his client would testify against Spaccia, though he is not on the lengthy witness list that attorneys submitted to the court.

Spaccia’s attorney, Harlan Braun, said he was shocked by the allegation his client was the mastermind and doubted that a jury would ever find Rizzo to be a credible witness.

Spaccia was Rizzo’s longtime second-in-command who pulled in a salary of $376,000 a year and doubled as the top administrator in neighboring Maywood, a city that let go most of its employees after it lost its insurance in 2010.

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Though facing 13 corruption-related charges in the Bell scandal, Spaccia has been painted by her attorney as a victim of Rizzo’s scheming to loot the small town’s treasury.

Braun tried to have his client’s trial separated from Rizzo’s, saying that just appearing in the same courtroom with the former city administrator would leave her “tainted by association with Rizzo.”

While she has largely escaped the level of attention that was focused on Rizzo, Spaccia did make headlines when a series of emails were revealed that captured her negotiating a contract with Randy Adams, who was hired as Bell’s highly paid police chief.

In an email to Spaccia, Adams wrote: "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 ... Bob 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!"

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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