LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Bell city official on trial for corruption told a jury Wednesday that a newspaper story alerted her to the “insane” salaries of some officials in the small, blue collar suburb.
Angela Spaccia, former assistant city manager, said she couldn’t believe the figures when she read the newspaper story. She claimed all salaries were set by her boss, then-city manager Robert Rizzo, and she was unaware of how far he had gone in raising compensation.
“I didn’t even believe it when I read it in the paper,” she said. “I thought I knew what was happening. But this was insane.”
She did not mention that when the story broke in the Los Angeles Times, her own salary and benefits were exceeding $500,000 a year and Rizzo was receiving $800,000 plus benefits, bringing his compensation package to $1.2 million.
Spaccia also said she was “disgusted” with financial demands made by the police chief, Randy Adams, who has testified that he was receiving $457,000 a year, plus benefits.
Spaccia, who concluded her direct testimony after four days on the witness stand, said she regretted writing a widely quoted email about greed, hogs and pigs, saying, “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.” She said she was just trying to be funny.
“I regret that I ever joked and all I was doing was trying to be nice, witty, funny,” she said, adding she was conveying a message to Adams not to be greedy.
Still, she said, Adams persisted with more demands, including a change in his pay period so that if he was fired in his first year, he would not lose two weeks of salary.
“I was disgusted because he was going to be paid so much money and the city was going to provide benefits,” she said. “I thought, ‘So what if you lose two weeks’ pay?’ ”
She said Rizzo also was irritated and suggested that he might not have the right person for the job.
Adams was hired and most of his requests were filled.
Adams, who is not charged in the case, testified last week, downplaying the email from Spaccia.
“It’s been fully taken out of context and made to look like it was some evil plan, and it was in jest,” Adams said then.
Spaccia has said that six-figure salaries awarded to other employees were part of Rizzo’s management design to make sure people did not use Bell as a stepping stone and would stay in their jobs.
Her attorney, Harland Braun, ended his examination by leading her through the charges against her as she denied her guilt. She assigned blame to Rizzo for devising questionable benefits plans and loan programs and assigning exorbitant salaries to managerial staff.
“Did you think there was anything criminal about accepting these salaries?” asked Braun.
“No, there was not,” Spaccia said.
Asked to describe the stress of her job in Bell, which led her to file a workers compensation claim, she said, “I would liken it to something like being in combat.”
Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges, leaving Spaccia to stand trial alone on 13 charges.
The Times won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating the scandal.
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