Spaccia Convicted of Conspiracy, Raiding Bell Public Funds
By Elizabeth Marcellino & Fred Shuster, City News Service
Bell’s former assistant city administrator was convicted Monday of 11 felonies for conspiring to misappropriate public funds and looting the working-class city’s coffers through exorbitant salaries and personal loans of taxpayer money.
Angela Spaccia, 55, showed no emotion as the verdicts reached by the eight-woman, four-man jury were announced, following deliberations that stretched over all or a portion of roughly 10 days. Jurors began deliberating Nov. 22 after hearing about 4 1/2 weeks of testimony and a day-and-a-half of closing arguments.
Spaccia was convicted of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds, four counts of conflict of interest, one count of secretion of an official record and five counts of misappropriation of public funds.
The misappropriation charges stemmed from her salary and those of former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and police Chief Randy Adams, along with a pair of six-figure loans of taxpayer money she received in 2009 and 2010. The conflict-of-interest charges involved the handling of her pension plan and the writing of her own employment contracts in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
She was acquitted of a single count of secretion of a public record as it pertained to Adams’ employment contract. Jurors deadlocked on one count of misappropriation of public funds pertaining to an alleged $75,500 loan of taxpayer money in 2003, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy declared a mistrial on that count.
The jury foreman said the panel was deadlocked 6-6 on that count.
Despite arguments from defense attorney Harland Braun, Kennedy ordered that Spaccia be taken into custody, and she was handcuffed in court.
“I do think she has had ample time to prepare for this,” Kennedy said.
Her family members wept in court as she was led out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies.
Relatives declined to comment outside court.
Sentencing was tentatively set for Jan. 22. She faces up to roughly 17 years in prison, according to prosecutors.
Rizzo, who was charged along with Spaccia, pleaded no contest on Oct. 3 to 69 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds, less than a week before their trial was set to begin. He was not called to the stand during Spaccia’s trial and is awaiting sentencing in March.
During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett told jurors that “Rizzo stole millions of dollars from the city of Bell and Angela Spaccia helped him every step of the way.” He alleged Spaccia also took public funds for herself “every chance she got” and was involved in crafting secret agreements to pay out unlawful pay raises.
Rizzo is expected to be sentenced in March to 10 to 12 years. Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett was asked following the verdicts whether Spaccia might end up serving more time than her former boss.
“I imagine their sentences will be comparable,” Hassett said. He pointed out that Rizzo fully cooperated with prosecutors, while “Ms. Spaccia was unrepentant and refused to accept any responsibility for her actions.”
District Attorney Jackie Lacey called the outcome ”a bittersweet victory for the citizens of Bell.
“I’m pleased the jury viewed this extremely complex case precisely for what it was: grand theft paycheck,” Lacey said. “Bell’s top two former administrators, Angela Spaccia and Robert Rizzo, stole more than $6 million in public money. Their reign of fraud left the working-class city of 35,000 nearly bankrupt. Their unbridled greed also forced Bell’s hardworking residents to pay higher tax rates than residents of Beverly Hills.”
Spaccia was making a base salary of $370,000 that rose to $564,000 annually with vacation and sick pay by 2010, while Rizzo was taking in more than $1 million a year for their work in “a tiny city,” Hassett said during trial.
In his closing argument, Braun acknowledged that Spaccia had been paid too much, but maintained that she was not guilty of any criminal conduct.
“The evidence is only that she was overpaid” but “she never thought anything was illegal,” Braun said.
One juror, a 29-year-old man, said the deliberations took so long because the case “was very, very complicated.”
“We wanted to be very thorough and go through all the information,” he said.
Another juror, who also asked that his name not be used, acknowledged Rizzo’s involvement in the case, saying he did not believe Spaccia would have wound up behind bars without his actions.
Calling her “a good person,” the man said Spaccia “had a family like everyone else but she was under the influence of Rizzo.”
Outside court, Braun said Rizzo was “clearly more responsible than she (Spaccia) is.” He said he was surprised that his client was handcuffed and taken into custody, but suggested Kennedy “has some prejudice against Angela.”
“She wants to make an example of her,” Braun said.
The attorney said his client realizes “she should have questioned it when she started getting the extra money.”
Spaccia now “has just got to get through the rest of her life,” he said.
In a separate trial, five former Bell elected city officials were convicted March 20 of misappropriation of public funds. Lacey called the Bell case “the most significant public corruption case” ever prosecuted by her office’s Public Integrity Division.
“To the residents of Bell, I have this message,” Lacey said. “You have suffered one of the worst betrayals by public servants in the history of public corruption. I commend the progress that you’ve made in reforming and restoring your city government.”
Monday Lacey said she would be swearing in new members of the Artesia City Council and that the jury’s message should be clear to public officials everywhere.
“Don’t think you’re invincible because you’re a public official,” Lacey said.
Bell Mayor Violeta Alvarez said Spaccia “deserves to go to jail for many years.”
“We have worked tirelessly to rebuild the city from the corruption that Spaccia helped to create and we will not rest until we have fully recovered,” Alvarez said.
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December 12, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.