Ex-councilwoman testifies at Bell corruption trial
LOS ANGELES (AP) – A former Bell city councilwoman convicted of misappropriation of public funds testified Thursday that she had virtually no interaction with Angela Spaccia, the former assistant city manager who is on trial facing felony corruption charges.
Teresa Jacobo was called to the stand by Spaccia’s lawyer and said she met Spaccia but could not recall ever asking her about city finances.
Jacobo offered a prelude to Spaccia’s planned testimony. She said she took all directions from now disgraced City Manager Robert Rizzo and no one questioned his authority.
On cross-examination by the prosecutor, Jacobo, a former mayor, said she couldn’t remember details of decisions made by the council in closed sessions and only found out Rizzo was making close to $1 million a year when she read it in the newspaper.
During her testimony, Jacobo was asked by Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman if she knew that the city paid for one of the former mayors to have a $9,000 hair transplant procedure and for another councilmember to spend $10,000 on a weight loss camp.
She said she was unaware of those expenditures.
The lawyer for Oscar Hernandez, who had the hair transplant, said his client met with Rizzo and asked if the cost could be covered by the city’s medical plan. Hernandez’s lawyer, Stanley Friedman, said Rizzo and the city attorney told him it was a medical procedure and it was properly reimbursable.
The councilmember who was fighting weight problems was George Cole. His attorney, Ronald Kaye, said the cost was part of a rehabilitation program after he suffered a massive heart attack. He said the money came from a fund earmarked for medical needs of city employees.
Spaccia has pleaded not guilty to 13 counts, including misappropriation of funds and conflict of interest. If convicted, she could face up to 16 years in state prison. She was on the witness list for Thursday.
On Wednesday, jurors heard a full day of testimony from one of the highest paid Bell employees, the former police chief who was hired for $457,000 a year to revamp the department in a tiny suburb where one in four residents lives in poverty.
Chief Randy Adams said even he was surprised when Rizzo decided to pay his demands. At first, he said he told Rizzo, “You can’t afford me.” But Rizzo disagreed.
Adams, who is not charged in the case, testified for the first time in a financial scandal where authorities said city officials were improperly awarding themselves soaring annual salaries for very little work in the small, blue-collar Los Angeles suburb.
Adams was called to the stand by Spaccia’s lawyer, Harland Braun, in an effort to show that she was blameless in the negotiations and was merely carrying out Rizzo’s instructions when she drafted an employment agreement for Adams.
Huntsman challenged the depiction of Spaccia as a powerless functionary. He had Adams identify an email in which the chief told her that an investigation was brewing.
Huntsman showed jurors a letter Spaccia wrote two days after she received the tip asking to be put on paid administrative leave with the leave back-dated 90 days. Adams said he knew nothing about that.
Huntsman tried to show that Adams and Spaccia were close friends but Adams denied it. He said he had known her professionally for 30 years but they never socialized.
He testified that emails between them portrayed by prosecutors as incriminating were sent in jest.
Spaccia and Rizzo were arrested three years ago on charges related to a citywide corruption scandal. Spaccia had been earning $375,000 a year plus benefits and Rizzo $800,000 a year with benefits that brought his compensation to nearly $1.2 million to run a 2.5-square-mile city of 35,000 residents.
Rizzo, formerly Spaccia’s co-defendant, pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges last month on the eve of the trial. He has agreed to testify against Spaccia.
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