LOS ANGELES – After testimony from others about big salaries paid in the tiny city of Bell, former city official Angela Spaccia may have some explaining to do, and she plans to tell her side of the story on the witness stand at her corruption trial.
The ex-assistant city manager is on the witness list for Thursday after jurors heard a full day of testimony from one of the highest paid Bell employees, the former police chief who was hired for $457,000 a year to revamp the department in a tiny suburb where one in four residents lives in poverty.
Randy Adams said Wednesday even he was surprised when the city manager, Robert Rizzo, decided to pay his demands. At first, he said he told Rizzo, "You can't afford me." But Rizzo disagreed.
Adams, who is not charged in the case, testified for the first time in a financial scandal where authorities said city officials were improperly awarding themselves soaring annual salaries for very little work in the small, blue collar Los Angeles suburb.
Spaccia, Bell's former assistant city manager is on trial facing felony corruption charges. She has pleaded not guilty to 13 counts, including misappropriation of funds and conflict of interest. If convicted, she could face up to 16 years in state prison.
Adams was called to the stand by Spaccia's lawyer, Harland Braun, in an effort to show that she was blameless in the negotiations and was merely carrying out Rizzo's instructions when she drafted an employment agreement for Adams.
Prosecutor Max Huntsman challenged the depiction of Spaccia as a powerless functionary. He had Adams identify an email in which the chief told her that an investigation was brewing.
Huntsman showed jurors a letter Spaccia wrote two days after she received the tip asking to be put on paid administrative leave with the leave be back dated 90 days. Adams said he knew nothing about that.
Huntsman tried to show that Adams and Spaccia were close friends but Adams denied it. He said he had known her professionally for 30 years but they never socialized.
He testified that emails between them portrayed by prosecutors as incriminating were sent in jest.
Spaccia and ex-Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo were arrested three years ago on charges related to a citywide corruption scandal. Spaccia had been 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 a 2.5 square-mile city of 35,000 residents.
Rizzo, formerly Spaccia's co-defendant, pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges last month on the eve of the trial. He has agreed to testify against Spaccia.