A Los Angeles Superior Court judge lashed out at a former Bell leader Thursday, sentencing her to more than 11 years in prison and branding her a “hog” for tapping the town treasury for her lavish salary while the working-class city slid toward insolvency.
Angela Spaccia became the first person sentenced in the municipal corruption case, and the lengthy prison term was the first indicator of how Judge Kathleen Kennedy intends to punish those convicted of misappropriating more than $10 million from one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities. Bell’s former chief executive, Robert Rizzo, and five ex-council members await sentencing.
Kennedy also ordered the 55-year-old to pay more than $8 million in restitution to the city.
As she ordered Spaccia to prison, Kennedy — who has spent years sitting in judgment of those involved in the Bell corruption case — called the former assistant city manager a “con artist” who used the trust of residents as her weapon and never expressed remorse for her crimes.
“It was all about the money,” Kennedy said. “Ms. Spaccia likes to portray herself as somehow a victim of Mr. Rizzo. She is no victim.... She got unbelievable amounts of money.”
Kennedy made repeated references to an email Spaccia wrote to Randy Adams while negotiating his contract as Bell’s new police chief.
“You can take your share of the pie just like us!!!” she wrote. “We all will get fat together … Bob has an expression he likes to use on occasion … Pigs get Fat … Hogs get slaughtered!!! So long as we’re not Hogs … all is well!!”
“She became a hog, not a pig,” Kennedy said Thursday. “And so now the day of reckoning is finally here.”
It marked the first time the judge has publicly offered her opinion on the wrongdoing since she took the cases in 2011. Kennedy said initially she knew little about how a city was run and didn’t fully comprehend the relationship between the council and administration.
“It was totally foreign to me and I spent years understanding the evidence,” Kennedy said. “I went through every single exhibit in an effort to understand what was going on, what happened here.”
What it came down to, she said, was unchecked greed.
“Ultimately what happened is that both Rizzo and Spaccia were not content with being pigs,” she said. “They were hogs and they basically got slaughtered because you can’t keep these kinds of things hidden forever.”
Calling it an “extraordinary” case of mismanagement and self-dealing, Kennedy came down hard on Spaccia — whose annual salary had been $564,000 — dismissing a letter the defendant had written the court that listed some of her life’s hardships, including caring for her dying grandparents and a son who survived a serious car crash.
“Her weapon is not the weapon that I usually see in cases that come before me. It’s not a gun, it’s not a knife. It’s the trust that people had in her,” Kennedy said. “She is charming, she is attractive, she is well-educated. She is not someone that you think is stealing you blind.”
Spaccia, wearing a bright orange, jail-issued jumpsuit, her brown, wavy hair pulled back into a ponytail, shook her head as the judge spoke, but never addressed the court.
By the time Spaccia was forced to resign in 2010, she was cashing out 26 weeks of vacation and sick time each year, effectively boosting her salary by 50%. She was found guilty in December on 11 felony counts related to writing illegal contracts, receiving more than $200,000 in illegal loans from the city and helping create a pension plan for Rizzo and herself that would have cost the city $15.5 million had it been funded.
“They didn’t meet a dollar that they didn’t want to steal from Bell,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett said of Rizzo and Spaccia.
But Spaccia’s attorney reiterated what he had argued during the trial: It was Rizzo who was the architect of the wrongdoing in Bell and, because of it, his client had suffered “enormously.”
Spaccia “wishes she would have never gone to the city of Bell,” Harland Braun told Kennedy.
Braun also asked the court to compel Rizzo to testify Thursday, but Kennedy rejected the request along with a motion for a new trial. Braun later accused Kennedy of bias and said he planned to appeal.
A half-dozen Bell residents who spoke in court blasted Spaccia, saying she had refused to take responsibility and had likely sealed her fate by not confessing and taking the plea deal that her former boss had.
“She was made into the hog because she was outsmarted by Rizzo’s attorney and by Rizzo. They had to have a sacrificial lamb,” Donna Gannon said. “She was just as guilty, but he was smarter.”
Spaccia’s supporters, however, said they’ll stand by her.
“I can honestly say she’s the sweetest, most kind woman that I’ve ever met in my life,” said her boyfriend of five years, Scott Gould. “Everything that she did there was meticulously reviewed by the city attorney. She was basically under the realm of Robert Rizzo. She told me, ‘I would rather spend most of my life in jail than plead out on crimes I did not commit.’”
Gould said Spaccia had remained positive and in good spirits during their jail visits but that she had been wary of the sentencing.
“She felt the judge was going to throw the book at her,” he said.
Outside the courtroom, residents thanked the prosecutors for their work. Bell Councilwoman Violeta Alvarez handed each a small blue pin with gold lettering. “City of Bell,” it read.
“I wish we could give them a potluck or a trip or something,” Alvarez said. “This is for them to remember how much we appreciate what they did.”