Defendant praises her former co-defendant and boss

 Assistant city manager says she knew she was being paid too much at $340K a year 

By Linda Deutsch
AP Special Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Angela Spaccia, charged in a massive city corruption scheme, had praise for her former co-defendant Robert Rizzo, the man who abandoned her on the eve of trial to make a plea deal and agreed to testify against her.

She suggested the disgraced city manager had changed the face of the city of Bell for the better in his 10-year tenure and was a “brilliant” manager who was generous and caring to his employees.

“He was going to pay everyone enough that they would have no incentive to leave,” she said, calling it “the perfect management style.”

But she acknowledged that in her case, the ballooning salary was beyond her expectations and more than twice as much as she should have received.

A sometimes tearful Spaccia, who was Rizzo’s assistant city manager, said she knew she was being paid too much when her salary reached $340,000 a year.

Prosecutors have said that before the bonanza ended in 2010, she was receiving $500,000 a year and Rizzo’s salary and benefits came to $1.2 million. All of it, they said, came from taxpayer funds in a 2.5-square-mile city of 35,000 residents, where one in four lived below the poverty line.

They have portrayed her as Rizzo’s partner in crime in a scheme to loot the coffers of the small blue collar town, handing out largesse to city council members who went along with the spending spree, approving $100,000 salaries for themselves for jobs that should have paid little more than $600 a month.

Spaccia, who chose to testify in her own defense, said she realized that she was receiving more than twice the amount she was entitled to but she did not believe that accepting the money was a crime.

She was to resume testifying Friday when she also faces cross-examination by a prosecutor.

The defendant said she like others in the Bell city government deferred to Rizzo and she felt he had council approval for her salary.

“In the last two years, I was overpaid by twice what I should have been paid,” she said under questioning by her lawyer, Harland Braun.

“Would anything over $250,000 be unreasonable?” asked Braun.

“Excessive, yes,” she said.

“Did you believe any of it was illegal?” asked Braun.

“No,” she said, explaining she had seen an official resolution approved by the City Council for salaries.

“Did you think that accepting the salary was criminal?” asked Braun.

“No,” said Spaccia.

Spaccia, who had previous experience working in municipal government, was hired for $100,000 and aspired to make twice that, she said.

Rizzo who pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges on the eve of trial faces 12 years in prison. Although he has agreed to testify against her, prosecutors have not yet called him.

When Rizzo arrived in 2003, Spaccia said he rescued the small, blue-collar suburb from the brink of bankruptcy, and he was able to raise enough money to provide a surplus.

“It looked to me like he had planned everything out for the long term. ... I was impressed with his financial savvy,” she said.

Spaccia wept as she told jurors that Rizzo kept her on the payroll when she had to care for a dying parent and her son, who was injured in two car accidents.

“At times I felt guilty about it,” she said “But he said that was his policy.”

Spaccia has pleaded not guilty to 13 counts, including misappropriation of funds. If convicted, she could face up to 16 years in state prison.

Before Spaccia took the stand, a former city councilwoman, Teresa Jacobo testified that she didn’t know the city had paid for a former mayor to have a $9,000 hair transplant and spent $10,000 on a weight loss camp for another council member.

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. The attorney, Stanley Friedman, said Rizzo and the city attorney told him it was a medical procedure and it was properly reimbursable.

The council member 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.