LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Just days after former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo pleaded no contest to all 69 counts brought against him in a massive public corruption case, his former assistant goes on trial on more than a dozen felony charges today, when prospective jurors will be asked to fill out questionnaires.
Angela Spaccia, the 55-year-old former assistant city manager who was charged along with Rizzo in September 2010, indicated Friday she would not be emulating Rizzo.
“I feel so strongly that when you’re innocent, you don’t take a plea,” she told reporters.
Prospective jurors are scheduled to be asked this morning to fill out a detailed questionnaire about what they have heard about the case and then ordered to return to court later this month for questioning by attorneys.
Spaccia is charged with six counts of misappropriation of public funds, four counts of conflict of interest, two counts of secretion of official records and one count of conspiracy to commit misappropriation of public funds.
“I’m still in shock over what happened” on Thursday, when Rizzo pleaded no contest to the charges leveled against him, she said Friday.
“But if in fact he plans to testify, then we’ll see if he double-crosses me or not,” said Spaccia, adding that she was “scared to death because the D.A. wants me to spend the rest of my life in jail.”
Spaccia’s attorney, Harland Braun, has said he believes Rizzo would exonerate his client if he testifies truthfully.
Braun said he expects that his client will testify in her own defense during the trial. He has acknowledged that Spaccia was paid too high a salary — more than $300,000 a year — but said she has maintained she “didn’t do anything that was knowingly illegal.”
Rizzo, who had been awaiting trial, entered his no contest plea Thursday to charges including misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, falsification of records and perjury by declaration. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said she expects that Rizzo will be sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in state prison on March 12.
During a hearing Friday, Spaccia’s attorney said he believed Kennedy should “send this case to another judge” since it will be up to her to determine if Rizzo testifies truthfully if he is called to the stand after she had already indicated what kind of sentence he could face.
“That puts your honor in the middle of this case,” Braun said.
Kennedy responded that the jury will make its own decision about Rizzo’s credibility if he testifies, and that the limitations on the length of Rizzo’s prison sentence could be lifted if he testifies falsely.
Spaccia’s attorney had unsuccessfully requested that Rizzo and Spaccia be tried separately and said he was surprised by Rizzo’s plea.
“I had no warning at all,” Braun said Thursday.
Five former Bell elected officials have already been convicted of misappropriating public funds. Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and ex-City Council members George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, George Cole and Victor Bello are also awaiting a retrial on charges on which the original jury could not reach verdicts.
Hernandez, Jacobo and Mirabal were each convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.
The jury completely exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 counts against him.
Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller told jurors during the trial that the officials misappropriated public funds by collecting unlawful salaries for sitting on four city boards that rarely met — the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.
Defense attorneys maintained their clients were wrongly accused, arguing they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.