After eight days of deliberations, jurors convicted Spaccia of multiple counts of misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and secretion of the official record. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on one count of misappropriating public funds and found her not guilty on one charge related to secretion of public records.
Spaccia was among eight former Bell city officials charged in the case.
Spaccia’s attorney, Harland Braun, had argued that although his client’s huge salary may have been unethical, it wasn’t illegal.
Before she was ousted from her job as assistant chief administrative officer in 2010 after The Times revealed the huge paychecks Bell officials were receiving, Spaccia was accumulating sick and vacation days at such a fast rate that when she cashed them out each year, it amounted to a 50% pay hike, eventually bumping her pay to $564,000 a year.
Prosecutors alleged that Spaccia wrote her own contract as well as those for other ranking city employees, including Bell’s former chief administrative officer, Robert Rizzo, who was making $1.18 million a year when he was forced out.
The trial came more than three years after the small working-class city was engulfed in scandal, with revelations of not only the extraordinary salaries, but also of illegal taxes and fees, of Rizzo giving out illegal loans of city money, and of documents that hid city officials’ real salaries.
Rizzo pleaded no contest in October to 69 felonies and is expected to be sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison. Rizzo’s attorney, who called Spaccia the brains behind the corruption, said his client would cooperate with prosecutors. However, Rizzo was not called to testify.
Rizzo and Spaccia also are expected to face federal charges of conspiracy to commit tax fraud, according to Rizzo’s attorney, James Spertus.
Five former council members charged in the corruption case were convicted this year of misappropriation of public funds and have yet to be sentenced. They are expected to be retried on counts in which the jury deadlocked. A sixth council member, a pastor in the Los Angeles County city, was acquitted.
Spaccia was charged with 13 counts of conflict of interest, secretion of official records, misappropriation of public funds and conspiracy to commit misappropriation of public funds. She was accused of writing illegal contracts, receiving $350,000 of illegal loans from the city and hiding an agreement that allowed the police chief to retire with a medical disability.
She also was accused of helping to create a special pension plan for Rizzo and herself that would have cost the city $15.5 million had it been funded.
Spaccia, who worked in Bell for seven years, testified that when Rizzo hired her in 2003, she thought he was “brilliant” and had “the perfect management style.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman put the blame on both of them. “There was a master and a mind,” he said. “Mr. Rizzo was in charge. He was the boss, he had the power … but Ms. Spaccia made what he wanted to happen, happen.”
Spaccia spent seven days on the stand, crying at times, usually when talking about family troubles such as her dying grandfather or her son’s near-fatal motorcycle accident.