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Los Angeles, CA -
(FOX 11 / CNS) Former Bell assistant city administrator Angela Spaccia was sentenced today to 11 years and eight months in prison for bilking the city's coffers of thousands of dollars through an exorbitant salary and a pair of six-figure loans of taxpayer money.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy called the 55-year-old Spaccia a "con artist'' during the sentencing hearing, rejecting her claim that she was a victim of former Bell administrator Robert Rizzo.
The sentencing came one day after five former Bell city officials accepted plea deals that will cap their prison terms at four years. Spaccia was convicted Dec. 9 of five counts of misappropriation of public funds, four counts of conflict of interest and one count each of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and secretion of an official record.
The misappropriation charges stemmed from her salary and those of Rizzo and police Chief Randy Adams, along with a pair of six-figure loans of taxpayer money she received in 2009 and 2010. The conflict-of-interest charges involved the handling of her pension plan and the writing of her own employment contracts in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
She was acquitted of a single count of secretion of a public record as it pertained to Adams' employment contract. Jurors deadlocked 6-6 on one count of misappropriation of public funds pertaining to an alleged $75,500 loan of taxpayer money in 2003.
Spaccia's attorney, Harland Braun, asked that his client be placed on probation, but Kennedy rejected the request. Rizzo, now 60, pleaded no contest Oct. 3 to 69 counts -- less than a week before he and Spaccia were set to go on trial. He is facing between 10 and 12 years behind bars, with sentencing set next Wednesday. In his sentencing memorandum, Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett wrote that Spaccia's "criminal conduct occurred over a seven-year period'' and that her "crimes were carefully planned and executed, and she took great care to conceal them.''
"This was not a one-time lapse of judgment on defendant Spaccia's part; it was a criminally sophisticated conspiracy that drove the city of Bell to the edge of bankruptcy,'' Hassett wrote in the sentencing memorandum.
In the defense's sentencing memorandum, Braun countered that Spaccia "had a reasonable basis to believe her conduct at Bell was lawful,'' and that there was no evidence that Spaccia had been informed that her salary and benefits or those of other Bell leaders were illegal.
Braun said he believes Spaccia's conviction will be reversed on appeal. Spaccia has remained jailed since the verdict. Her attorney wrote in court papers that Spaccia believes she was remanded in custody "for exercising her constitutional right to a trial,'' arguing that Rizzo was "allowed to remain out of custody as a reward for plea bargaining with the court.''
Rizzo was not called to testify during Spaccia's trial.
During Spaccia's trial, Hassett told jurors that "Rizzo stole millions of dollars from the city of Bell and Angela Spaccia helped him every step of the way.'' He alleged Spaccia also took public funds for herself "every chance she got'' and was involved in crafting secret agreements to pay out unlawful pay raises.
Spaccia was making a base salary of $370,000 that rose to $564,000 annually with vacation and sick pay by 2010, while Rizzo was taking in more than $1 million a year for their work in "a tiny city,'' Hassett said during the trial.
In his closing argument, Braun acknowledged that Spaccia had been paid too much, but maintained that she was not guilty of any criminal conduct. "The evidence is only that she was overpaid'' but "she never thought anything was illegal,'' Braun said.
Meanwhile, five former Bell City Council members are awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest Wednesday to two felony counts each of misappropriating public funds through inflated salaries in a plea deal that could result in sentences ranging from probation to four years behind bars.
Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were each convicted March 20, 2013, of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while former Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.
Jurors deadlocked on a handful of counts against the five, with the prosecution announcing in May that it intended to retry those charges. Kennedy had urged both sides to try to work out a deal, eliminating the need for a retrial and bringing the Bell corruption saga closer to an end.
It will be up to the judge to determine what sentences the five will actually face, with the maximum term being a four-year "lid'' that will include the crimes on which they were convicted at trial. The five are also expected to be ordered to pay restitution.
Attorneys for some of the former council members said they were hopeful that their clients would get probation. Bello's attorney, Leo Moriarty, said outside court his client had already served about six months in county jail before being released on bail. Most of the others were quickly released on bail. "I think he's well-deserving of it,'' Moriarty said of a probationary sentence. Hernandez's attorney, Stanley Friedman, said his client was "apologetic about what happened.''
Cole, 64, is scheduled to be the first sentenced, with the judge instructing him to return to court June 11. Jacobo, 56, and Hernandez, 66, are due back June 24 and June 26, respectively, while Mirabal, 64, is set to be sentenced July 11 and Bello, 55, set to return to court July 14.
Jurors exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 charges against him. In their trial, the prosecution alleged that the defendants were paid illegal salaries for sitting on four city boards that rarely met, with their salaries reaching $100,000 in a city that was 2 1/2 square miles and where the median household income was $35,000.
Defense attorneys countered that their clients were wrongly accused, arguing that they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.