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Rizzo, other former Bell officials won't receive pensions to match huge salaries

Because the city could not document pay increases over the years, Rizzo will be entitled to retirement benefits on a salary of only $85,200 — or about one-tenth of his last yearly pay as city administrator, according to a CalPERS report.

November 13, 2010|By Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Time

Robert Rizzo and other former Bell officials who collected huge salaries won't get pensions to match, state retirement system officials said Friday.

Because the city could not document a series of pay increases over the years, Rizzo will be entitled to retirement benefits on a salary of only $85,200 — or about one-tenth of his last yearly pay as city administrator, according to a California Public Employees Retirement System audit report.

That reduced amount, based on Rizzo's salary for fiscal year 1992-93, will drastically slash the $600,000 to $1 million in retirement benefits he was expected to receive. The actual amount of his potential benefits is unknown, but based on CalPERS formulas it would be about $70,000 a year.

Auditors also found that payments made by Bell to a deferred-compensation plan were improperly reported to CalPERS.

The audit by CalPERS comes after The Times revealed the enormous salaries and potential pensions of administrators and elected leaders in the small city southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Eight former and current city leaders have been charged with misappropriating millions from the city treasury.

Besides Rizzo, the state's findings also will affect the retirement benefits of Angela Spaccia, former assistant city administrator, and ex-Police Chief Randy Adams, both whom resigned along with Rizzo earlier this year. Spaccia, who made more than $375,000 a year, is not eligible for pension benefits on any of her Bell income, CalPERS said. Her earnings from other cities where she has worked will still qualify.

Adams, who made $457,000 a year as Bell's police chief, more than doubled his potential pension when he was hired by the city last year and stood to make at least $400,000 in annual retirement, according to The Times' calculations. His pension-eligible Bell salary will be no more than $85,200, the high end of the pay range for the chief's job approved by the City Council in 1995, CalPERS said.

Bell City Council members who were paid as much as $100,000 a year also will see their eligible annual salaries shrink significantly, to no more than $8,076.

James Spertus, Rizzo's attorney, blasted those currently in charge of the city for not producing documentation of his client's most recent salary. He said CalPERS was aware of a boost in Rizzo's pay in 2000, so it should not have to rely on a nearly 20-year-old council resolution to determine the rate.

"It is unfortunate that the city of Bell is refusing to provide the documentation that CalPERS requires to complete its review," Spertus said. "All documentation requested by CalPERS should have been readily produced by the city, and it is remarkable that the city is not cooperating with CalPERS."

Adams' attorney, Thomas O'Brien, declined to comment because he had not seen the report. Spaccia's lawyer could not be reached.

In its written response to CalPERS, Bell officials said they worked closely with auditors this summer and did not withhold any records from them.

Pedro Carrillo, Bell's interim chief administrative officer, said that "much of the documentation simply does not exist," and he blamed Rizzo for it.

"I am learning that the prior CAO fostered and maintained a culture of secrecy and cloister wholly incompatible with open government in California," he said in a letter to CalPERS dated Nov. 5

One potential upside for Bell is that, based on the audit findings, it overpaid CalPERS for its share of benefits for Rizzo and the others and could eventually receive a refund. The amount is unknown, and CalPERS officials said they will keep the overpayments pending the outcome of a civil lawsuit filed by the state attorney general.

That lawsuit wants a court-appointed monitor to oversee city operations. Late Friday, Bell agreed to the monitor, and the state and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said they would side with the city in asking the court to delay that lawsuit.

Spertus, Rizzo's lawyer, said his client wants the case to move forward and will oppose the motion for a stay. He said the filing "raises serious questions about whether the civil case was merely a campaign stunt" by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who was running for governor when the lawsuit was filed.

Rizzo and seven other current and former Bell city leaders have been charged by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office with misappropriating more than $5.5 million in the working-class city of about 40,000.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating potential civil rights and voting rights violations by the city, and the state controller, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the State Department of Corporations also have launched investigations into Bell's finances.

kim.christensen@latimes.com

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