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Bell's Spaccia, prosecutor have tense exchange over benefits, sick leave

The former assistant city manager continued to draw her full salary and benefits while taking time off to care for her ailing grandfather and son.

November 18, 2013|By Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives
  • Angela Spaccia completed her testimony Monday after seven days on the stand in a corruption case.
Angela Spaccia completed her testimony Monday after seven days on the stand… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Despite not working for about 18 months to take care of her ailing grandfather and son, Bell's former assistant city manager was never docked a single vacation or sick day and continued to draw her full salary and benefits.

At the same time, Angela Spaccia testified that she continued to build up vacation and sick leave, which she then cashed out to repay loans she had taken from the city. In all, Spaccia received about $350,000 in loans that prosecutors contend were illegal.

Spaccia, second-in-command in Bell when the city exploded in scandal in summer 2010, is fighting 13 corruption-related charges. After seven days on the witness stand, she completed her testimony Monday, and the case is expected to go to the jury this week.

In his cross-examination, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett zeroed in on the time Spaccia spent in Idaho to take care of her dying grandfather in 2005 and 2006.

"You think the people of Bell should have to pay for you to not work for them during this six-month period of time?" Hassett asked.

"That's an interesting question," she answered. "I've never looked at it that way."

"Do you?"

"I don't even know how to answer that. I looked at it that my employer made a decision on how to handle my pay and [vacation and sick leave] accruals. Is that fair or unfair? I don't know."

Spaccia also spent a year or so caring for her son after a motorcycle accident and then had several surgeries herself.

Part of Spaccia's defense is that she couldn't have committed the crimes she's accused of because she wasn't in Bell much of the time. Her boss, Robert Rizzo, the former chief administrative officer, pleaded no contest last month to 69 felonies and is expected to be sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison.

Spaccia's testimony Monday was the most contentious since she took the stand.

"Now you're making stuff up," she told Hassett at one point.

While she and the prosecutor argued over the five years of pension credit Bell bought her, Rizzo and other high-ranking city officials, Spaccia peered over her reading glasses and looked at the jury.

"I'm so sorry," she said, apparently apologizing for the heated back-and-forth with the prosecutor.

Spaccia told jurors that when she was on loan to neighboring Maywood to serve as interim city manager in February 2010, Rizzo told her he would reduce her $130,000 loan balance by $10,000 a month, the same amount that Maywood, which let most of its municipal employees go, had agreed to pay Bell for running its city services.

Hassett asked her whether "the people of Bell" should have paid her salary to serve as Maywood's top administrator.

"I wouldn't have done it that way," she answered.

Spaccia also said that despite the time she was off, she worked long hours that she wasn't paid for.

"And you believe the city of Bell owes you more money and you were under-compensated?" Hassett asked.

"I've put in plenty of hours on the city of Bell that don't reflect on a calendar or a time sheet."

Spaccia's salary reached $564,000 a year by the time she was forced out of Bell. Rizzo's salary had soared to more than $1 million annually.

An email shown to jurors also provided details about a house in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, that Spaccia was trying to buy with her boyfriend, helped along with a $200,000 loan from Rizzo's mother-in-law. In the email, Spaccia said she was getting a deal because the property was appraised in July 2009 for $2.66 million and she was paying only $1.6 million.

The sale fell through, and Spaccia still owes Rizzo's mother-in-law $100,000, she said in court last week.

Hassett also accused Spaccia of cheating on her taxes and helping Rizzo cheat on his.

The prosecutor alleges that Spaccia wrote off $130,000 in expenses in 2005 and $330,000 through a company she formed. "You wrote off more than half your salary in 2010," Hassett said.

Spaccia said she didn't pay attention to what her accountant wrote off and would have to look at her tax returns to come up with an answer.

Rizzo's attorney has predicted the two would eventually face federal tax charges.

The accountant, Robert J. Melcher, pleaded guilty in February to aiding and abetting the filing of a false tax return.

After an emotional day in court, Harland Braun, Spaccia's attorney, said his client was unscathed.

"She's admitted she was overpaid, she's admitted that some of the money may have to be paid back to the city of Bell," he said. "There's a lot of ethical issues, moral issues, maybe civil law issues involved here. But they're not criminal."

jeff.gottieb@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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