Angela Spaccia's attorney Thursday blamed the massive corruption in Bell on former city manager Robert Rizzo and the city's former finance director and said the district attorney brought the case against his client to gain publicity before the 2010 election.
In his closing statement, Harland Braun insisted his client had done no wrong despite receiving a salary that reached $564,000 a year along with benefits that would make her rich in retirement.
"Quite frankly, I'm sure all of you are shocked about the amounts of money involved here," Braun told jurors. "I am also."
But he said it wasn't against the law to make a lot of money.
"This lady, maybe she had bad judgment sometimes, maybe she shouldn't have taken the high salaries … how many of you if offered a salary would say, 'I'm not worth it, I'll take less'?" Braun asked.
Spaccia, who was the assistant chief administrative officer in Bell, is on trial on 13 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, conspiracy and receiving unauthorized compensation. The case is expected to go to the jury Friday.
Braun brought up that Rizzo, who pleaded no contest to 69 counts of corruption last month, did not testify in Spaccia's case.
"This case is all about Rizzo, so where is Rizzo?" he said. "Why isn't he a witness here? Why didn't they put him up there and put him under oath and tell us what he did? ... He's not here because if he told the truth for one of the first times in many years, my client wouldn't be a defendant."
Braun said that before the city erupted in scandal on Rizzo's watch, Bell had clean streets, no graffiti, a food bank and subsidized sports programs for children.
"I've said what terrible things he did to the city, but even evil people can produce good things. You've all heard of Adolf Hitler and Volkswagen," he said, referring to the car developed by Nazi Germany.
Braun said that after Rizzo remarried in early 2007, "all of a sudden he wanted more and more immediate money, and my client gets the benefit of his greed."
Braun told jurors that then-Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley charged Spaccia and seven other Bell officials because he was running for attorney general, a race he lost.
Spaccia's lawyer mentioned that the Bell defendants were arrested and their photos shown at a news conference with Cooley, where Cooley characterized what happened in the city as "corruption on steroids."
"It should not be part of a publicity stunt," Braun said, "and that's really the genesis of this case."
Five former Bell council members were found guilty of corruption earlier this year. One of them, Teresa Jacobo, testified for Spaccia. Braun spent several minutes defending Jacobo, who had been called a "convicted felon" during the prosecutor's closing argument.
"She was there 10 years," Braun said. "She didn't see anything criminal going on. She was a victim."
As he has throughout the trial, Braun said the real conspiracy was between Rizzo and Lourdes Garcia, who had been Bell's director of administrative services and who testified under a grant of immunity.
He called Garcia "a perjurer" and said that when Rizzo needed someone to falsify a document, he went to Garcia, not Spaccia. "Basically, Lourdes Garcia should go to jail … but in exchange for her cooperation, she's being spared prosecution, isn't she?" Braun said. "She's up to her neck in fraud."
Braun said that Rizzo carried Spaccia along as his compensation skyrocketed because of regulations that required everyone in his executive management category to receive the same benefits. "Rizzo didn't care," he said. "It wasn't his money."
The attorney brought up the 18 months during which Spaccia received full pay but did no work while taking care of her ailing grandfather and son. But, he said, that was not one of the charges against her.
"It's certainly no crime to accept generosity," he said.