Ex-Bell police chief testifies in corruption trial
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The ex-police chief of a scandal-ridden Southern California city said Wednesday that emails portrayed by prosecutors as incriminating were sent in jest from an accused assistant city manager as warnings against being greedy.
Former Bell police Chief Randy 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 a small Los Angeles suburb where 1 in 4 residents lives in poverty.
He was called to the stand by defense lawyers for Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former assistant city manager on trial facing felony corruption charges. She has pleaded not guilty.
Adams downplayed an email from Spaccia that said they would “get fat together” off the city’s coffers.
“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.
Spaccia and ex-Bell City Manager Robert 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.
Adams defended his own salary of $457,000, saying it was in line with those of other cities and included the $260,000 retirement benefits he would have earned from another city if he hadn’t gone back to work.
He depicted defendant Spaccia as a powerless functionary who carried out Rizzo’s orders. Adams said he negotiated his salary through Rizzo and that Spaccia was only an intermediary.
When Adams, a veteran police chief approaching retirement, was contacted by the city of Bell, he said he sent the message to Rizzo stating, “I don’t think your city can afford me.”
But Adams said Rizzo told him to put a salary request in writing, and he asked for $460,000 plus perks, including a fully equipped chief’s car, lifetime health insurance and generous vacation and sick leave.
He identified a now notorious 2009 email exchange in which he told Spaccia, “I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell’s money.”
She responded, “LOL. Well you can take your share of the pie. Just like us. We will all get fat together.”
She then referred to a favorite saying of Rizzo’s – “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered” – and said they shouldn’t be hogs.
Asked to explain, he said, “I was joking with her. I had said, ‘I don’t think you’ll be able to hire me because it would take all of Bell’s money.'”
Of her response, he said, “I know she was jesting. I took it that she was telling me don’t be greedy.”
Adams, who had refused for years to testify in the Bell scandal, dropped his Fifth Amendment claim of protection against self-incrimination when he was subpoenaed by Spaccia’s lawyers, saying he wanted to testify because he did nothing wrong.
When Adams was fired in 2010 after city officials’ salaries became public knowledge, he was making $457,000 a year to run a department of about 40 people. Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck, who oversees a department of about 13,000 employees, was making $307,000 at the time.
Spaccia had told Adams in another email, “We have crafted our agreements carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay.”
He said the system “was not as transparent as I would like but there was nothing criminal about it.”
Adams had a 37-year career as police chief in Ventura, Simi Valley and Glendale and was a finalist for the job of Orange County sheriff.
Spaccia is on trial on 13 counts, including misappropriation of funds and conflict of interest. If convicted, she could face up to 16 years in state prison.
Five former Bell council members were convicted in March of fraud charges after jurors found they paid themselves six-figure salaries for sitting on boards and commissions that did no work. Some unresolved charges are awaiting another trial.
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