When he was Bell's police chief, Randy Adams was one of the highest-paid cops in the nation. Now the city wants it all back. After years of scandal that has left the city on the cusp of insolvency, Bell filed suit Tuesday, saying Adams owes his former employer hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Bell, a working-class city that paid outsized salaries to its top administrators, said Adams must repay the city his entire $457,000 annual salary and a portion of the $20 million the city estimates it lost as a result of a corruption scandal that led to the arrests of eight former civic leaders.
The lawsuit can be read as a pointed response to one the former police chief filed against Bell last month for severance pay. He previously sued the city for legal costs that he spent defending himself against a state attorney general suit that accused him and others of plotting to enrich themselves at city expense. The state suit has since been dismissed.
"A lot of people say, 'Why aren't you going after Randy Adams?' That has been answered today," said Anthony Taylor, an attorney for Bell.
The lawsuit alleges that Adams looked the other way when confronted with evidence of corruption in the small Los Angeles County city.
"All it would have taken was one person in authority to blow the whistle," City Manager Doug Willmore said. "Randy Adams could have been that one person. He wasn't. He made his choices, and now it's time to pay the price."
The suit signals a more aggressive stance by the city in going after its former leaders. Although Adams is not among those charged with corruption, his contract as police chief weighs heavily in some of the criminal counts. Former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and Assistant Administrator Angela Spaccia are accused of trying to hide the amount of his salary by dividing it into two contracts.
The indictment also alleges that Spaccia and Rizzo hid an agreement that allowed Adams to retire with a disability pension, which would have allowed him to avoid paying taxes on half his pension. He is now among the top public pensioners in California.
"The public should know that the city of Bell will no longer be a cash cow for individuals like Randy Adams," said Mayor Ali Saleh, who was elected after the entire City Council resigned or was recalled.
The suit also asks that Adams be forced to pay the city's costs to settle a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by Bell police Sgt. James Corcoran. Corcoran went to Adams with allegations of voter fraud, unlawful vehicle seizures, illegal selling of building permits and two instances of sexual harassment involving Rizzo. According to the lawsuit, Adams became upset when Corcoran told him he had taken the information to the FBI.
Adams demoted Corcoran, placed him on administrative leave and started an investigation for insubordination.
After he was told he would be fired, according to the suit, Corcoran retired and sued the city. He recently settled for $400,000 and won back his job on the police force.
Sana Swe, Adams' attorney, said the allegations in the lawsuit were not new. The council, she said, "certainly knew he was there" and the city "gave him a gun, gave him a badge, gave him a uniform."
As far as returning the money, she asked, "He was supposed to work for free?"
Adams started the Bell job in July 2009, shortly after retiring as Glendale's chief. His Bell salary was about twice what he had been making and 50% more than the Los Angeles police chief earned at the time. He stepped down in 2010.
The lawsuit charges that Adams' contract was invalid because the City Council never approved it.
Besides Rizzo and Spaccia, six former Bell council members have been charged with corruption.
The judge presiding over the Bell criminal cases wondered aloud why Adams had not been charged. "I don't know why he is not a defendant in this case," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said at a hearing.
The city's lawsuit calls Adams' conduct "malicious, oppressive and/or fraudulent," and refers to the money he earned and the costs the city absorbed as essentially being "stolen" from the city.