LOS ANGELES, Calif.- Bell’s former police chief testified today that he never questioned the legality of the $457,000 salary he was offered because he was continually assured that the city’s ex-chief administrator had absolute control over the small town’s budget.
Randy Adams, testifying as a defense witness in the trial of Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former assistant city administrator, told jurors that although the amount of the salary — higher than the Los Angeles police chief’s compensation — surprised him, “everyone was telling me that (Robert) Rizzo had the authority.”
Adams was on the verge of retirement in 2009 when Spaccia, a longtime friend, called to say that her boss, Rizzo, “wanted to hire me to come to the city of Bell,” he said.
The longtime Southland police official said he jokingly told Spaccia, “It would take all the money the city of Bell has to hire me.” When Spaccia made clear that Rizzo was willing to pay “what was necessary” to bring him to the blue-collar southeast Los Angeles municipality, Adams said he began to be “suspicious” because there had been prior political corruption scandals in some cities in the region.
Adams testified that he called a Los Angeles prosecutor to ask whether Bell was currently involved in any such corruption cases.
“I told him they were making me an unbelievable offer to come down there, including lifetime medical,” Adams told the seven-woman, five-man Superior Court jury.
The deputy district attorney called back the next day, telling Adams that Bell was clean, as far as he knew, the ex-police chief said.
In April 2009, Adams said he began negotiating salary and benefits with Rizzo, eventually accepting an offer.
“I was surprised that a little city like this could afford to hire me,” Adams said on the witness stand.
Charges were filed in the case the next year, but Adams was not named as a defendant.
Spaccia, 55, who was Rizzo’s second-in-command, is accused of 13 corruption-related felonies.
Rizzo — who was charged along with Spaccia — pleaded no contest to 69 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds, less than a week before their trial was set to begin.
Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman said previously that Spaccia was making a base salary of $370,000 that ballooned to $564,000 annually with vacation and sick pay by 2010, while Rizzo was taking in more than $1 million a year.
Huntsman told the panel at the start of the trial that the contracts for Spaccia and Rizzo were not publicly approved, and that their pay was based on a carefully disguised “formula.”