Former Bell official testifies at corruption trial

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A sometimes tearful former official of the scandal-ridden Bell took the stand in her own defense at a corruption trial Thursday, acknowledging she was being paid too much when her salary ballooned past $340,000 a year.

Angela Spaccia said she realized that she was receiving more than twice the amount she was entitled to but she did not believe that accepting the money was a crime.

Spaccia, who served as assistant city manager under the disgraced Robert Rizzo, said she felt he had spoken to the City Council about her salary and they settled on a fee that was sufficient to keep from losing her as an employee.

"In the last two years, I was overpaid by twice what I should have been paid," she said under questioning by her lawyer, Harland Braun.

"Would anything over $250,000 be unreasonable?" asked Braun.

"Excessive, yes," she said.

"Did you believe any of it was illegal?" asked Braun.

"No," she said, explaining she had seen an official resolution approved by the City Council for salaries and thought it was authorized.

"Did you think that accepting the salary was criminal?" asked Braun.

"No," said Spaccia.

Spaccia was to resume her testimony Friday.

Earlier, she told jurors at her corruption trial that she felt the Los Angeles suburb was well-managed.

Spaccia praised Rizzo, her former co-defendant, who pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges on the eve of trial and agreed to testify against her.

When Rizzo arrived in 2003, the small, blue-collar suburb was on the brink of bankruptcy, and he was able to raise enough money to provide a surplus, Spaccia said.

"It looked to me like he had planned everything out for the long term. ... I was impressed with his financial savvy," she said, adding that she felt he devised the "perfect management style."

Spaccia wept as she told jurors that Rizzo kept her on the payroll and allowed her to work from home when she had to care for a dying parent and her son, who was injured in two car accidents.

"At times I felt guilty about it," she said about being kept on. "But he said that was his policy."

Prosecutors contend that Bell officials looted the city through exorbitant salaries and perks.

Spaccia has pleaded not guilty to 13 counts, including misappropriation of funds. If convicted, she could face up to 16 years in state prison.

Rizzo, who made close to $1 million a year as city manager, negotiated a plea that will carry a 12-year prison sentence.

Earlier Thursday, former City Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo testified that she didn't know the city had paid for a former mayor to have a $9,000 hair transplant and spent $10,000 on a weight loss camp for another council member.

Jacobo, who was convicted of misappropriation of public funds, denied wrongdoing on her part. She said she took all directions from Rizzo and no one questioned his authority.

The lawyer for Oscar Hernandez, who had the hair transplant, said his client met with Rizzo and asked if the cost could be covered by the city's medical plan. The attorney, Stanley Friedman, said Rizzo and the city attorney told him it was a medical procedure and it was properly reimbursable.

The council member who was fighting weight problems was George Cole. His attorney, Ronald Kaye, said the cost was part of a rehabilitation program after he suffered a massive heart attack. He said the money came from a fund earmarked for medical needs of city employees.

On Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from one of Bell's highest-paid employees, the former police chief who was hired for $457,000 a year to revamp the department in the tiny suburb where 1 in 4 residents lives in poverty.

Chief Randy Adams said he was surprised when Rizzo decided to pay his demands. At first, he said he told Rizzo, "You can't afford me." But Rizzo disagreed.

Spaccia and Rizzo were arrested three years ago. Spaccia was earning $375,000 a year plus benefits, and Rizzo $800,000 a year with benefits that brought his compensation to nearly $1.2 million to run the 2.5-square-mile city of 35,000 residents.

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Associated Press writer John Rogers contributed to this report.

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