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Injury cited by ex-Bell police chief in disability pension claim didn't prevent him from exercising

Randy Adams cited the back injury in a bid to collect millions of tax-free dollars from a law-enforcement disability pension. It didn't stop him from taking spinning classes or participating in a 5K race.

October 05, 2010|By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times

The injuries that former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams cited in a bid to collect millions of tax-free dollars from a law-enforcement disability pension did not prevent him from taking rigorous spinning classes and posting an impressive time in a 5K race, the Glendale Downtown Dash.

Nor did they stop him from noting on an April 2008 job application for Orange County sheriff that he enjoys skiing and has participated in the 120-mile Baker to Las Vegas Relay run.

Last year, when he signed on as chief in Bell, Adams struck a deal with Robert Rizzo, who was Bell's city administrator at the time. In that agreement, he was declared disabled the same day that he was hired. Under the arrangement, the 59-year-old Adams would receive a lifetime disability benefit whenever he decided to retire, meaning he would not have to pay taxes on half of his $400,000-plus annual pension. His Bell retirement would be the third-richest in the state's huge pension system.

Such pensions are designed for law enforcement officers, firefighters and other safety employees who are unable to continue working because of their injuries. They should not be promised in advance of a retirement at some future date, especially as part of an employment contract, pension experts say. After The Times reported last month about the pension deal, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office announced it was investigating Adams in connection with the agreement.

Adams' attorney, Mark Pachowicz, said his client is disabled and has done nothing wrong.

Pachowicz said "it's been years" since Adams went skiing or ran a leg of the Baker-to-Vegas event. The spinning classes and jogging are good for Adams' ailing back, the attorney said.

"You mean you can't jog and be disabled?" Pachowicz said.

A workers' compensation claim that Adams filed in 2003 says that he twisted his back that year while packing up his office as Simi Valley police chief to take the same position in Glendale. The claim says the box-lifting mishap compounded "cumulative" job-related back injuries and that he later had surgery.

In Glendale, Adams applied for and was granted a less lucrative retirement and claimed no disability. Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird has told The Times that Adams had recovered from the back surgery seven years ago and was not disabled. Adams rescinded the non-disability Glendale retirement around the time he started at Bell.

When Adams applied for Orange County sheriff, the year before joining Bell, he did not mention having any physical problems, said Rick Francis, chief of staff for county Supervisor John Moorlach, who helped interview the candidates.

Instead, Adams' application said that he "enjoys jogging and snow skiing and has participated in the law-enforcement Baker-to-Vegas and Special Olympics runs." If Adams had been offered the job, Francis said, he would have had to show that he was physically capable of full-time work. In the pension agreement with Bell, Rizzo said Adams had "limitations" on full-time duties because of his back and the lingering effects of previous knee and neck injuries.

The district attorney already has charged Rizzo and seven other current and former Bell officials in a broad corruption scandal, which erupted after The Times reported their unusually high salaries. Adams has not been named in that case, and the charges against Rizzo do not encompass Adams' retirement arrangement.

In announcing that his office would investigate the pension deal, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said he would remove himself from any decision on whether to charge Adams because of his long professional relationship with the ex-chief. Cooley has said he and Adams are not friends and their working relationship had no influence on his office's determination not to charge the former chief in the corruption case.

The district attorney's office has not disclosed any details of the Adams investigation. But legal scholars say that several statues could apply to his situation, including those governing attempted misappropriation of public funds, criminal conflict of interest, fraud and conspiracy. The fact that Adams has yet to receive any pension money does not necessarily mean he is not in jeopardy, they say.

"It doesn't matter if he got paid," said Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

Among the Bell officials who have been arrested was Angela Spaccia, Rizzo's former deputy, who recruited Adams and has known him since they worked together in Ventura years ago.

During the drafting of Adams' contract, Spaccia told him it should not specify the number of annual pay periods so that his $457,000 annual salary — double what he earned at the much larger Glendale Police Department — would not draw attention, according to a lawsuit filed by state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown against Rizzo, Adams, Spaccia and other former and current Bell officials.

Less than three months before entering the pact with Rizzo, Adams ran in the Glendale 5K, a charity race that he completed in under 32 minutes, several minutes better than the average for the 366 men who competed, according to published results. This year, the contest became an official warm-up for the Los Angeles Marathon.

As the Bell chief, Adams continued to take spinning classes at a Simi Valley athletic club and occasionally went on street patrol to impound cars and issue traffic tickets, according to people who say they witnessed the activities.

Bell Police Sgt. Art Jimenez said he saw Adams "out on patrol three or four times."

"I didn't think there was anything wrong with him," Jimenez said.

paul.pringle@latimes.com

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