D.A.'s office investigates former Bell police chief’s pension deal

Los Angeles County prosecutors are investigating former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams for having himself declared disabled for the job the day he was hired, an arrangement that could pay him millions in tax-free pension money, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Thursday.

Cooley said he would not take part in any decision by his prosecutors on whether to file charges against Adams because they have had a professional relationship for several years. The district attorney said they were not friends, however, and there was no need for his office to turn the matter over to another agency to avoid a conflict of interest.

“I’ve never been to his home,” said Cooley, whose office has charged eight other former and current Bell officials in a broad corruption case. “We do not socialize. It’s a professional acquaintanceship.”

The Times reported Thursday that Adams struck a deal with former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo that guaranteed the incoming chief a disability retirement because of injuries he sustained years earlier. Under such a retirement, he would not have to pay taxes on half his pension income.

Adams’ attorney, Mark Pachowicz, said his client had done nothing wrong and the pension agreement was merely an effort to avoid litigation with Bell if the city objected to a disability retirement sometime in the future.

“I don’t think he should be under investigation,” Pachowicz said.

Adams, 59, entered into the pact with Rizzo even though he had filed for a less lucrative non-disability retirement as he prepared to leave his job as Glendale police chief. That application was approved, but he rescinded it the same month his service officially ended in Glendale and he went to work for Bell in 2009, Glendale and state pension officials say.

Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird said that Adams, who worked in the city for six years, was not disabled and had never indicated to him that he should be entitled to a medical retirement.

Disability pensions are designed for employees who must give up a job because of a work-related injury, and the tax break is intended to compensate them for lost earnings, said representatives of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Along with Rizzo and Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, Adams resigned from Bell after The Times disclosed their high salaries in July. Adams made $457,000 annually, double his pay at the much larger Glendale department, and stands to collect a pension of more than $400,000 a year.

Unlike Rizzo and Spaccia, he was not charged Tuesday in the corruption case. Prosecutors said at the time that Adams’ large salary alone was not evidence of a crime.

Cooley said Thursday that his investigators had already reviewed some information about the pension agreement, but they could broaden their inquiry.

“What was brought out today in The Times was certainly brought to the attention of the attorneys working the Bell case,” he said. “They’re going to go where the evidence leads them.”

The one-page pension agreement was executed the same day as Adams’ employment contract, May 29, 2009.

It says that Adams had previous knee and back surgeries as well as a neck injury, and all were job-related.

As a result, the document says, he has “limitations to full-time law enforcement duty and is disabled from heavy lifting” and “experiences flare-ups of debilitating back pain and numbness in his left foot.”

In 2008, Adams had applied to become Orange County sheriff but was not selected for the post. Pachowicz said he did not know if Adams had told Orange County officials that he suffered from a disability.

In a civil lawsuit filed last week, the state attorney general accused Rizzo, Adams and others of being part of a scheme to loot Bell’s treasury.

The suit cited Rizzo’s promise to support a disability retirement for Adams and to provide him and his dependents lifetime healthcare benefits, with no vesting period. It did not specifically challenge his claimed disability.

Pachowicz said Adams had back surgery in 2003 and returned to work in Glendale two weeks later. Starbird said Adams never told him that he subsequently was unable to perform full-time duties. He said a back-related workers’ compensation claim that Adams settled with Glendale and two other cities where he had served as chief, Ventura and Simi Valley, did not qualify him for a disability pension.