The potential lawbreaking in Bell, or the just plain strange ways of doing business there, were on full display Friday in the corruption trial of the city’s former assistant city manager.
The day began dramatically when prosecutors revealed documents showing that after the City Council passed a resolution in 2006, it was altered to support then-Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo’s contention that it gave him greater power.
The revelation came during the second day of the prosecutor’s cross-examination of Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former second in command. Spaccia testified that the city charter and council resolutions gave Rizzo authority to approve contracts for city employees without council approval.
Prosecutors argue that those documents say nothing of the sort.
After 2006, the council never approved Rizzo’s and Spaccia’s contracts, which gave extraordinary salaries and benefits to top employees.
Spaccia is being tried on 13 corruption-related charges. Rizzo has pleaded no contest to 69 felonies.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett showed jurors a resolution that includes the sentence: “The Bell City Council authorizes the Chief Administrative Office to execute all business documents on behalf of the City.” He said outside the courtroom that this was the version provided to anyone who asked for a copy.
Hassett then showed Spaccia a copy from the agenda packet that council members voted on. The prosecutor asked Spaccia to find the crucial sentence.
“The version given to the City Council to vote on and approve doesn’t have ‘document execution’ in it, does it?” Hassett said.
“No,” Spaccia replied, adding: “That’s pretty disgusting. I obviously trusted someone I should have not.”
She said Rizzo presented her the altered version, which he claimed gave him authority for contracts.
“Now for the first time I learned it didn’t exist,” she said.
But Hassett said he didn’t believe her.
“You knew it wasn’t in there,” he said, leading Spaccia to deny the charge.
Later in the day, prosecutors turned to one of the unauthorized loans Spaccia received from the city, which she repaid with sick and vacation time. Eventually cashing in those days would boost her salary nearly 50%.
Spaccia testified that she received the loan even though she didn’t want it.
“I did not ask for $72,000, that is my testimony, yes,” she said.
“They wired it to your account without your authority? Is that your testimony?” Hassett asked.
“I don’t remember…,” Spaccia said.
Asked why she bothered to take the loan, Spaccia said Rizzo told her she needed to cash out her vacation and sick time, and this was a way to accomplish that.
Spaccia then said she didn’t know whether she repaid a $77,500 loan she received when she was hired in October 2003.
“I didn’t track this stuff at all,” she said, adding that the city didn’t provide repayment records.
Finally, prosecutors turned to an August 2008 contract between the city and Pacific Alliance Group, a firm owned by Spaccia’s son.
The contract said the company would “determine risk management options” for the city.
Spaccia testified that Pacific Alliance was a “pass-through” for payments to another company that was undertaking a phone survey about the quality of city services, such as parks.
Hassett asked Spaccia what risk management analysis her son or the survey firm provided.
“If the parks aren’t up to snuff, then that’s a risk management problem, is that your testimony?” he asked.
“You betcha,” Spaccia said.
Hassett said her son made $2,000, essentially doing nothing. “Because you extorted a bribe from [the survey company], didn’t you? You made him use Pacific Alliance to give your son pocket money.”
Spaccia denied it, and said her son only made $750.
Hassett repeatedly asked Spaccia why the city needed a middleman with the survey firm.
“You know what I wish right now?” she said. “I wish I had told them to pound sand.... Now I’m being badgered by you as if it’s something nefarious....”