Angela Spaccia, the former second-in-command in the city of Bell, told a jury Thursday that her goal working in the city of Bell was to retire at age 50, earning enough to receive a $100,000 annual pension.
Spaccia, one of eight former Bell officials accused of looting the city's treasury to pay themselves out-sized salaries, took the witness stand in her own defense, at times tearfully recounting her years working in the city.
In 2010, Spaccia earned more than $500,000, while Rizzo received more than $1 million.
Spaccia painted a picture of a city where Rizzo called the shots and was firmly in control. The generous salaries for city employees, she said, were his idea.
She said she was initially paid $100,000 a year when she was hired in 2003 as finance director. But her salary and related perks rose rapidly. She said she told Rizzo she needed a big enough salary so that she could retire in 2010, at age 50.
"If I could make something like $200,000, I would be ecstatic," she recalled telling Rizzo, because that would give her $100,000 a year in retirement. "He said, 'Done.'"
Rizzo agreed to the generous pay, Spaccia added, to prevent her and others from leaving the city for other jobs.
"He didn't want the city of Bell to be a steppingstone, he was going to pay everyone, not just management, everyone well enough so that they wouldn't have an incentive to leave," she said.
Asked by her attorney, Harland Braun, whether she had been overpaid, she responded: "Yes. I'd say the last two to three years I was overpaid by about twice what I needed be paid."
Spaccia said that $250,000 a year "would have been more than sufficient."
Was her salary illegal? Braun asked.
"No," she answered.
Spaccia is expected to return to the witness stand on Friday to continue her testimony and face cross-examination by prosecutors.
Spaccia faces 13 felony corruption charges.
Earlier in the trial, Braun told jurors that "despite all the smears and politics, Angela, like a lot of other people, was a victim of Robert Rizzo."
Prosecutors take a dimmer view.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman said Spaccia played a central role in the ballooning salaries. Her hunger for money was virtually unchecked, a former city official testified, and the running joke among City Hall staffers was that she was "sleeping with her paycheck."