A Los Angeles County grand jury is considering additional criminal charges against two former Bell officials already accused of looting the city’s treasury as part of a scheme that left the small city on the brink of insolvency.
Attorneys for former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his onetime assistant, Angela Spaccia, on Wednesday dismissed a warning from the grand jury as “baseless” and little more than a “dog and pony show” in a case that has drawn national attention.
“The piecemeal nature of the district attorney’s office’s investigation reveals that they are more in love with the process of announcing charges than reaching the merits of the case,” said James Spertus, who represents Rizzo.
According to a grand jury letter obtained by The Times, Rizzo and Spaccia could be indicted for their role in creating a generous supplemental retirement package for themselves. “Mr. Rizzo and Ms. Spaccia carefully tailored the program to benefit themselves more than other employees, thus making their participation a conflict of interest,” the letter reads.
The grand jury also suggested that false documents were created to hide former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams’ true salary and said they are looking into a contract awarded to Adams that was not approved by the City Council.
Adams, who became one of the highest paid police officials in the nation when he was hired by Bell, has not been charged in the sweeping public corruption case in which Rizzo, Spaccia and six current and former Bell council members are accused of misappropriating more than $5 million from the city.
Prosecutors said they’re not allowed to speak about grand jury proceedings.
In September, The Times reported that Rizzo designed a supplemental pension plan for himself and 40 other Bell city officials that will provide them large taxpayer-financed retirement packages. Paid for entirely by Bell tax funds, it allowed city employees and council members to circumvent retirement limits set by the state. Over the last seven years, the City Council approved increases in the retirement pay for those 41 officials that could raise pensions by about 85%.
The increases mean that Rizzo could receive a pension of nearly $1 million a year, according to Times estimates, and Spaccia could receive more than $375,000 a year. The two stepped down last summer after The Times revealed their salaries.
The grand jury letters arrived midway through court hearings to determine whether Rizzo, Spaccia and six other officials should be ordered to stand trail.
On Wednesday, Bell’s director of administrative services, Lourdes Garcia, testified that Rizzo instructed her in 2007 to draft a resolution that increased the accrual rate of vacation and sick time for himself and Spaccia.
About six months later, Garcia said she was asked to draft another resolution that allowed the two to collect 28 weeks of vacation and sick time a year, which they could cash out. Council members passed the resolutions.
Spertus said his client’s plans to retire had been delayed so he was “winding down his years of service” and planned to take a lot of vacation time. Spaccia, who was on leave toward the end of 2007 while caring for a son who was in a car accident, was not involved with the changes to her vacation time, her attorney said.