Defendant details financial actions in Calif. city

AP News
Posted: Nov 08, 2013 9:00 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Angela Spaccia, seeking to absolve herself of blame for the financial collapse of the city of Bell, testified for a second day Friday about manipulations by her boss, Robert Rizzo, as he built his own personal fiefdom in the small, blue-collar California town.

Portraying herself as little more than a highly paid typist, the former assistant city manager said she drafted 12 employment agreements on Rizzo's orders which gave huge salary increases to his management team without explanation.

"I was told to type them, put a cover letter on them for the City Council and it would be presented (for approval)," she said.

Spaccia remained on the witness stand under questioning by her lawyer, Harland Braun, when court recessed for a long weekend. Eventually, she will face cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman. But she will not face Rizzo.

Outside court, Huntsman told The Associated Press that he does not plan to call the disgraced city manager as a witness even though Rizzo made a plea deal which includes his willingness to testify against his former co-defendant.

"That was never my plan," he said.

Rizzo, who pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges on the eve of trial faces 12 years in prison.

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

Prosecutors have portrayed her as Rizzo's partner in crime in a conspiracy to loot the city's coffers.

Spaccia told jurors about a period when Rizzo sent her to work in the neighboring city of Maywood, a gang infested suburb which was having dire financial problems.

Spaccia, who became the interim city manager of Maywood while on the Bell payroll, said she began sleeping with a gun and considered wearing bulletproof clothing. And she lost track of what was going on in Bell, until she was summoned to a council meeting where angry residents staged protests. The scandal had become public. Rizzo had been fired and she was fired that night, she said.

"I kind of had a breakdown," she said, recalling that she contemplated suicide and spent a few days in a psychiatric hospital.

"I'm still trying to come to grips with why it couldn't have ended differently," she said, fighting back tears. "If I had not been sent to Maywood, I probably could have figured out something was going on."

Earlier in the day she recalled when she had been gone on personal leave for a few months, Spaccia said she returned to find a new city charter in place that gave all control to Rizzo without the need for approval from the mayor and council.

She said there was an atmosphere of "chaos" as Rizzo handed out enormous pay raises in return for transforming city employees into independent contractors, meaning they could be fired at will. She continued to type agreements but never saw if they were approved.

"He (Rizzo) said the mayor no longer had to sign them because he had the authority under the charter."

She suggested that some took advantage of the situation, including the police chief, Randy Adams, who was hired by Rizzo for an enormous salary. She said she was annoyed when Adams came in with a long list of requests for perks in addition to his $457,000 salary.

"He was asking to be treated differently than the rest of the management team," she said.

"I recall Mr. Rizzo telling Randy Adams: 'You've got me where you want me. Write your own ticket.'"

She said the city at one point paid for an additional five years of service credit for all managers in order to bump up their state retirement benefits. The California pension system later ruled the scheme was not legal.

Spaccia has said she knew she was being paid too much when her salary ballooned past $340,000 a year.

Prosecutors have said that before the bonanza ended in 2010, Spaccia was receiving $500,000 a year, and Rizzo's salary and benefits came to $1.2 million. All of it, they said, came from taxpayer funds in a 2.5-square-mile city of 35,000 residents where 1 in 4 live below the poverty line.