Former Bell assistant city administrator Angela Spaccia was resentenced Monday, in light of an appeals court reversal on five counts of misappropriating funds from the city, and again ordered to repay roughly $8 million in restitution.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen handed down a sentence of 10 years, time Spaccia has already served, according to defense attorney Harland Braun.
Spaccia has been living at home and working while wearing an ankle monitor. Once the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation calculates her good conduct time, Braun said he expects the electronic device will be removed.
“She’s already done her time,” he said.
That’s despite the fact that Coen increased her sentence on some of the remaining counts.
Spaccia was sentenced in April 2014 to 11 years and eight months in prison for raiding the small municipality’s treasury in what a judge called a case of money and greed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said at the time she believed Spaccia was a “con artist,” rejecting the defense’s claim that the then-55-year-old woman — who had previously held management positions with five other public agencies in California and Idaho — was a victim of former Bell administrator Robert Rizzo.
A three-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeal ruled in June that instructions given to the trial jury incorrectly allowed Spaccia’s conviction based on her status as a public officer alone, without requiring findings about her degree of control over public funds.
Her new sentence applies to the remaining four counts of conflict of interest and one count each of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and secretion of an official record.
Braun said he had expected eight years, given the appeals court reversal, but that the difference wouldn’t affect his client.
“She’s out,” he said.
Coen effectively let the original order of restitution stand, requiring Spaccia to repay to the city of Bell what the prosecution had called “unlawful” salaries paid to her, Rizzo and former police Chief Randy Adams.
Braun said his client would appeal that decision, contending that she was being told to repay money related to crimes of which she no longer stands convicted.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Spaccia said: “I didn’t steal the Maserati, so why do I have to pay for it?”
That said, she has been complying with the court order, “making good faith payments every month,” Spaccia said.
Braun argued the appeals court had “reversed all of the counts involving government funds,” although the conspiracy count remains. That conviction is related to Spaccia’s role in creating a retirement plan, rather than salaries or loans.
The misappropriation charges against Spaccia stemmed from her salary and those of Rizzo and 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.
The appeals panel’s ruling noted testimony by an expert at trial that Rizzo and Spaccia had the highest government salaries he had ever seen. At the time she was terminated in 2010, Spaccia was earning a base salary of more than $340,000 and Rizzo was paid more than $700,000 annually.
And the panel noted “substantial evidence Spaccia was, at a minimum, criminally negligent in not knowing the loans at issue were unauthorized.”
At trial, prosecutors said Spaccia began working on a pension plan to solely benefit herself and Rizzo as soon as she began working for the city, and that she was involved in creating contracts that cost Bell “millions of dollars” and left the city’s taxpayers with an enormous tax burden.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett said Spaccia “took and took and took,” telling the judge that it “wasn’t just criminal” but “so hurtful and destructive” to the city, which he said was driven “to the edge of bankruptcy.”
“She just went down to payroll and paid herself millions of dollars,” Hassett told the judge.
Braun countered that his client had “suffered enormously, as the city of Bell has,” putting the blame on Rizzo. He previously acknowledged that Spaccia was paid too much, but told jurors that she was not guilty of criminal conduct.
In his original sentencing memorandum, Braun wrote that Spaccia “had a reasonable basis to believe her conduct at Bell was lawful,” and that there was no evidence that she had been informed that her salary and benefits or those of other Bell leaders were illegal.
In its ruling, the appeals panel focused on the grammatical details of a specific jury instruction, quoting from the Chicago Manual of Style. Though prosecutors argued that the use of a comma shouldn’t have changed the jury’s understanding, the panel ultimately found “the People did not establish that the jury necessarily convicted Spaccia because it found she had a material degree of control over public funds, or because she aided and abetted Rizzo in the commission of the charged crimes.”
As Spaccia moves to appeal the restitution order, Rizzo also remains on the hook to pay back money taken from city coffers. He was sentenced to 12 years behind bars shortly after Spaccia’s sentence was handed down and ordered to repay $8.8 million.
Five former Bell city council members accepted plea deals in which they pleaded no contest to two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds. Their sentences ranged from 180 days of home confinement to two years in prison.
Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were each convicted in March 2013 of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Ex-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 2013 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.
Jurors exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 charges against him.
At 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 during the trial that their clients were wrongly accused, arguing that they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.
–City News Service