Angela Spaccia convicted in Bell corruption scandal
Angela Spaccia, the $564,000-a-year deputy to the disgraced former city manager of Bell, was found guilty Monday of 11 felony counts related to her role in the corruption scandal, becoming the seventh official convicted of enriching themselves at the expensive of the working-class residents.
Spaccia, the last figure in the Bell scandal to be convicted or enter a plea, was taken away in handcuffs after a jury rendered the verdicts in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Though she wept several times during her testimony, Spaccia showed no emotion when the verdicts were read, pronouncing her guilty of multiple counts of misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and secretion of public documents. The verdicts came on the 10th day of deliberations.
Spaccia probably faces a sentence similar to the 10 years to 12 years in prison that her former boss, Robert Rizzo, is expected to receive, prosecutors said. Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges in October.
Spaccia and her attorney argued that Rizzo was behind the corruption scheme and that she was not even at City Hall when much of the wrongdoing took place. She admitted that it was unethical to take such large salaries but said she did nothing illegal.
One juror said he had sympathy for her but felt the verdicts were just.
“At the end of things, you look at what’s going on and she’s still a person,” juror Rey Peña said. “I feel we did the right thing, but it weighs heavy on me.”
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said that what Bell officials had engaged in was “grand theft paycheck.”
“I am pleased the jury viewed this extremely complex case for precisely what it was — greed,” said Lacey, who described Spaccia as being part of a pack of city leaders who were “crooks masquerading as public servants.”
The verdict comes more than three years after the city in southeast Los Angeles County was engulfed in scandal, with revelations of extraordinary salaries, illegal taxes, the lending of city money, and documents that lied about the real salaries of city leaders.
Spaccia’s attorney, Harland Braun, argued that his client was victimized by Rizzo and then exploited by then-Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley as he ran for state attorney general.
Before she was ousted from her job as assistant chief administrative officer in 2010 when The Times revealed the huge paychecks Bell officials were receiving, Spaccia was accumulating sick and vacation days at such an accelerated rate that when she cashed them out each year, it amounted to a 50% pay increase.
Prosecutors painted her as an architect of the wrongdoing in Bell, saying that she wrote her own contract as well as those for other ranking city employees, including Rizzo, who was earning $1.18 million a year when he was forced out.
Rizzo’s attorney said Spaccia was the “mastermind” of the corruption and that his client would cooperate with prosecutors. But he was never called to testify.
Rizzo and Spaccia are expected to face federal charges of conspiracy to commit tax fraud, according to Rizzo’s attorney, James Spertus.
Five former council members charged in the corruption case were convicted of misappropriation of public funds earlier this year and are expected to be retried on counts in which the jury deadlocked. A sixth council member, a pastor in the Los Angeles County city, was acquitted.
Spaccia was convicted of a spectrum of crimes — writing illegal contracts, receiving more than $200,000 in illegal loans from the city, hiding an agreement that allowed the police chief to retire with a medical disability and helping create a special pension plan for Rizzo and herself that would have cost the city $15.5 million had it been funded.
Spaccia, who worked in Bell for seven years, testified that when Rizzo hired her in 2003, she thought he was “brilliant” and had “the perfect management style.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman put the blame squarely on both city administrators. “There was a master and a mind,” he said. “Mr. Rizzo was in charge. He was the boss, he had the power... but Ms. Spaccia made what he wanted to happen, happen.”
Spaccia spent seven days on the stand, crying at times, usually when talking about family tragedies, such as her dying grandfather or her son’s near-fatal motorcycle accident.
The most damning evidence against her in the four-week trial may have been the now-infamous 2009 email exchanges with longtime friend Randy Adams as they were negotiating the deal that led to his $457,000-a-year salary as police chief.
“I am looking forward do seeing you and taking all of Bell’s money?!” Adams wrote. “Okay ... just a share of it.!!”
“LOL ... well you can take your share of the pie ... just like us!!! 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!!”
Spaccia and Adams testified that they were kidding.
“I regret that I ever joked around,” Spaccia told the jury. “All I was trying to do was be nice but funny, witty.”
On the witness stand, Spaccia said that she spent much of her time away from the city, including about 18 months when she was caring for her grandfather in Idaho and her son in Los Angeles.
But on the witness stand, she revealed that she was paid her entire salary during that time, never used a day of sick or vacation time and continued to accumulate more days off.
Spaccia’s sister, who assisted Braun during the trial, and her mother held hands and cried while the verdicts were read.
Braun asked the judge to allow Spaccia to remain free on $350,000 bail until her Jan. 22 sentencing so she could make arrangements for her grown son, who suffers from brain injuries.
“The defendant has had plenty of time to prepare for this eventuality,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett told the judge.
The judge remanded her into custody.
The jury was unable to reach a verdict on one count of misappropriating public funds and found her not guilty on one charge related to secretion of public records.
James Barragan and Ruben Vives contributed to this report.
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