In corruption trial, Bell’s Spaccia struggles to explain salaries

As prosecutors began their cross-examination of Bell’s former second in command Thursday, Angela Spaccia clung to her story that Robert Rizzo was to blame for hiding annual raises of more than 40% for the two of them at the same time the city was struggling to fund its pension plan.

The contracts that called for the pay raises were not included in any City Council agenda and the council never approved them, Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett said.

“I had no involvement in the agenda,” Spaccia repeated over and over.

She insisted the salaries were included in the 2005-10 budget that she prepared and that the council approved.


When Hassett asked her to find the salary of then-Chief Administrative Officer Rizzo in the document, Spaccia started on a page-flipping journey through the budget, first pointing to a section that listed all the positions in the city. Then she turned to another page that listed a salary for the chief administrative officer position. When Hassett asked whether that was Rizzo’s salary, she pointed to a column that she said showed the figure listed was actually only 35% of his full salary.

When Hassett again asked how someone could find out Rizzo’s salary, Spaccia replied, “This is where it gets complicated.”

Spaccia said they would have to look at another city document, called a personnel action report, which was not part of the budget packet.

Hassett later asked her whether the loans she took from the city were listed in the budget. At the time the budget was prepared, she had borrowed $91,500 in city funds that she was paying off with vacation and sick pay accruals. Eventually cashing in those days would increase her salary 50%.


But that answer too proved an adventure. After flipping pages again, Spaccia pointed to a figure reading $123,366, which she said included her loan as well as several taken out by other employees.

Then she said it would take another set of documents to figure out how much she actually owed the city.

Hassett asked her whether the salaries and the loans were purposely “indecipherable.”

“I had no intent to hide anything,” she said.

Prosecutors contend the loans, along with those received by about 40 other employees including Rizzo, a nonprofit and two businesses, were illegal because the council never approved them. Spaccia received a total of about $350,000 in loans.

Spaccia said that 12 employee contracts with huge raises were included in a budget resolution that the council passed under the phrase “supplemental revisions or amendments.”

She testified that she created the contracts, including hers and Rizzo’s, using salaries her boss gave her. She then returned them to Rizzo, she said, to include with the agenda package provided to council members.

After being shown the agenda package, Spaccia agreed that the contracts were not included.


Spaccia, who is on trial on 13 counts of corruption, testified that Rizzo told her the day after the May 2005 council meeting that the panel had approved the contracts.

Asked why the employees would get these raises at the same time the city was having trouble covering pension costs, including a $7.5-million unfunded liability for police, Spaccia replied, “I don’t know what Mr. Rizzo did.”

Hassett took issue with Spaccia’s claim that she had little influence and power in Bell, showing wire transfers and the payment of more than $1 million in legal bills that she authorized.

Hassett asked Spaccia, whose salary reached $564,000 by the time she was forced from her job, what she had done to deserve a 42% raise in 2005.

She said that when she began working full time in Bell, she was making $30,000 to $40,000 less than in her previous job. “I looked at it like it was realigning what I thought I could get on the market,” she testified.

Spaccia said she was “grateful” for the raise. “I just did what I was told and accepted it,” she said.

Spaccia told Hassett that when Rizzo hired her, she told him she needed to make $200,000 a year, more than she had ever earned, so she could retire with a $100,000-a-year pension at age 50.

“Anything more than that, he didn’t have to pay,” she said


When testimony turned to the supplemental pension Spaccia helped establish to augment her standard retirement plan, the jury was shown a document showing the city’s former second-in-command was thinking of retiring in 2009 with a projected salary of $250,000 a year.

She would have had 16 years’ credit in the California Public Employees’ Pension System and an additional five years’ credit that Bell bought her for $71,000. CalPERS rules say employees must pay for additional service time.

Hassett asked her how much she would receive from her pension if she had retired then. When Spaccia replied she would be paid about $150,000 a year, Hassett expressed outrage.

Spaccia called it “very common in government.”

“This is not common at all,” Hassett snapped.

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