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California

Former Bell police chief takes the Fifth 20 times

Already one of California’s highest paid public pensioners, former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams this week asked a state pension panel to double his retirement pay to reflect the huge salary he received during his brief stint as the top cop in the scandal-plagued city.

If Adams wins his case, which is being heard in Orange County, his pension would zoom to $510,000 a year, making him the second-highest-paid public pensioner in California.

On the witness stand Thursday, Adams invoked his 5th Amendment right to not incriminate himself 20 times, including when asked about his Bell salary, which was among the highest law enforcement paychecks in the nation.

The hearing was called to hear Adams’ challenge of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s decision not to include his year as Bell chief when computing his pension.

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He was asked if he was Bell’s former police chief.

“Yes,” he replied.

Did he send an email to a Bell city official saying, “I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell’s money?!”

“On the advice of counsel I am going to exercise my right to remain silent,” he replied.

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For the next 14 minutes, the man who had been a lawman for nearly 40 years, a police chief in three cities, exercised his constitutional right against self-incrimination over and over, refusing to answer most questions.

When an attorney for CalPERS asked him to open a loose-leaf binder of exhibits, he declined. “There’s no purpose in looking at it because I can’t comment on it,” he said.

The hearing Thursday was Adams’ first time on the witness stand in a Bell-related matter. Though Adams is not among the eight former city leaders in Bell facing public corruption charges, attorneys in the criminal case have been eager to question him about his salary.

Adams made $457,000 a year as Bell’s police chief, about double what he had made as chief in much-larger Glendale. An email exchange he had with Bell administrator Angela Spaccia is also cited in the criminal case.

In the exchange, Adams said: “I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell’s money?!” Spaccia replied: “LOL ... well you can take your share of the pie ... just like us!!! We will all get fat together...”

Adams’ current pension is about $240,000 a year, making him CalPERS’ eighth highest public pensioner. If he gets credit for his year in Bell, his retirement pay balloons to $510,000, putting him behind only former Vernon official Bruce Malkenhorst.

CalPERS, the state’s largest public pension administrator, argues that Adams’ contract was not valid since the City Council never approved it, and that Adams engaged in pension spiking. In a letter to the city during negotiations, Adams wrote: “The big difference, and I certainly value this, is that what I earn in this position” will count toward his pension.

Adams says that Robert Rizzo, Bell’s then-chief administrative officer, had authority to approve the contract and that CalPERS’ decision to disqualify his Bell paycheck is political because of the well-chronicled Bell scandal. During negotiations for the chief’s job with Bell, Adams wrote a letter saying that he needed to be paid more than his then-expected pension.

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Adams’ attorney, George McLean Adam, said the Bell job was “an offer too good to turn down.”

The hearing is one of several fights Adams is engaged in over his year in Bell. He has sued the city, saying it owes him a year’s severance. In turn, the city has sued him, saying it wants him to return his salary and a portion of the $20 million Bell estimates it lost in the corruption scandal.

Eight former Bell officials, including Rizzo and Spaccia, face charges of looting the city treasury.

Several Bell officials testified during the pension hearing that Rizzo kept Adams’ contract hidden.

Adams’ attorney seemed to argue that his client regretted taking the Bell job. “In hindsight,” he said, “he picked the wrong place to go to work.”

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com


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