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In e-mails, Bell official discussed fat salaries

The messages made public by prosecutors were sent by then-Assistant Administrator Angela Spaccia to police chief candidate Randy Adams. They offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how some Bell officials talked about their exorbitant pay.

February 14, 2011|By Jack Leonard, Andrew Blankstein and Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times
  • Bell Police Chief candidate Randy Adams and Assistant Administrator Angela Spaccia exchanged e-mails about the salaries of the city's officials.
Bell Police Chief candidate Randy Adams and Assistant Administrator Angela…

As Bell prepared to hire a police chief in 2009, the top candidate for the post exchanged e-mails with the city's No. 2 official: "I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money?!" Randy Adams wrote shortly before starting the job. "Okay … just a share of it!!"

"LOL … well you can take your share of the pie … just like us!!!" responded Angela Spaccia, the city's assistant administrator. "We will all get fat together … Bob has an expression he likes to use on occasion," she continued, referring to her boss and chief administrative officer, Robert Rizzo. "Pigs get Fat … Hogs get slaughtered!!!! So as long as we're not Hogs … All is well!"

Excerpts from the e-mails were made public Monday by Los Angeles County prosecutors in court documents that accuse Rizzo and Spaccia of intentionally concealing the steps they took to pay themselves and other city officials exorbitant salaries.

The exchange offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how some Bell officials talked about their compensation, which The Times last summer revealed to be among the highest for city government officials in the nation.

Rizzo's compensation, including salary, vacation and sick time that he could cash out, would have totaled more than $1.5 million last year. Spaccia's total compensation would have been nearly $850,000 and Adams', $770,000. The three officials resigned shortly after The Times' story set off a public outcry about their pay.

Rizzo and Spaccia are among eight current and former Bell officials facing criminal charges of misappropriating more than $5.5 million from the small, working-class community. All have pleaded not guilty. Adams has not been charged.

In their latest court filings, prosecutors accused Rizzo and Spaccia of illegally drafting their own contracts from 2005 onward without the city attorney's help or the City Council's authorization. The e-mails were offered as evidence of how they hid their illegal conduct, prosecutors said.

In an e-mail to Adams, Spaccia explained that the agreements were crafted "carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay."

Spaccia's attorney, Russell Petti, said his client was trying to get Adams to agree to a less lucrative benefits package when she wrote the e-mails. Adams and Rizzo had already agreed to his $457,000 annual salary, but Adams was asking for additional perks, Petti said.

"It was Angela's job to talk him down from it," the lawyer said, noting that she had known Adams for years. "She was trying to save the city of Bell money…. The intent of that is, 'Look, we're all very well-compensated by the city and let's not be pigs about it."

Petti acknowledged that the e-mails would not look good to a jury.

"Ms. Spaccia wishes she had worded them differently," he said. "But other than the incendiary effect of the e-mail, it doesn't go far in advancing the ball that Ms. Spaccia is guilty of anything."

Adams' lawyer, former U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien, said the e-mail remark quoted by prosecutors had been taken out of context.

"Chief Adams made a single imprudent comment during contract negotiations in which he was recruited heavily due to his stellar reputation as a 36-year law enforcement official," O'Brien said.

Head Deputy Dist. Atty. David Demerjian, who runs the office's Public Integrity Division, declined to comment on the e-mail exchange.

Prosecutors, he said, are still investigating a deal Adams struck with Rizzo that guaranteed the incoming police chief a disability retirement because of injuries he had sustained years earlier. Under such a retirement, he would not have had to pay taxes on half his pension.

Pension experts have questioned the legality of the Bell agreement, in part because it meant that the city had determined him unfit for the position's full-time duties yet employed him anyway. Glendale officials say that Adams, 60, was not disabled when he retired from Glendale in 2009. Some legal scholars say that several criminal statutes could apply to his situation, including those governing attempted misappropriation of public funds, criminal conflict of interest, fraud and conspiracy.

Adams, through his attorneys, has denied wrongdoing and insisted that he was disabled.

Prosecutors said Spaccia and Rizzo "succeeded in concealing their conduct for so long in part by trickery … and in part by buying loyalty of city employees."

Rizzo acted as a "godfather of sorts," offering loans of city funds to public employees during difficult times in their lives, prosecutors said.

jack.leonard@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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