As the corruption trial for former Bell city official Angela Spaccia opened Wednesday, her attorney told jurors it was a “political case” leveraged by an ambitious district attorney who was running for state attorney general and realized the story of wrongdoing in a working-poor city could win him votes.
“A trial should be about the truth, not about politics,” Harland Braun, Spaccia’s attorney, said in his opening statement.
He said video from Spaccia’s arraignment was used in a campaign commercial by then-Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, and his statement that Bell was “corruption on steroids” became one of his pet slogans.
Spaccia was the second-in-command in Bell and is now facing 13 corruption-related charges in the case. She had pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.
Robert Rizzo, her former boss, pleaded no contest to 69 felonies this month and now faces a likely 10- to 12-year prison sentence. Rizzo has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and could be called as a witness in the government’s case against Spaccia, who Rizzo’s attorney claims is the “mastermind” of the wronging in the Los Angeles County city.
Braun told jurors that Rizzo had received a reduced sentence in federal custody while his client could end up in state prison.
“Does this make any sense whatsoever?” he asked.
Spaccia, dressed in black slacks, a dark gray coat and dangling earrings, with her hair pulled in a bun, showed little emotion during proceedings Wednesday morning.
Braun took aim at one of the prosecution’s key witnesses, Lourdes Garcia, Bell’s former director of administrative services, who has been given immunity from prosecution.
“Every time Mr. Rizzo wanted to do something really crooked,” he turned to Garcia for help, Braun said.