If you're of a certain age and you watched a lot of TV as a kid, like I did, you'll know what I mean when I say that Angela Spaccia is mounting the ''Sergeant Schultz defense." "I know nothing". That of course the saying repeated over and over again by Sgt. Schultz in the prison camp in the classic "Hogan's Heroes."
That's it, she is the former assistant to, or assistant (we've heard both) to the City Manager of Bell, a city of 35,000 in Southeast Los Angeles County. She's facing 13 counts of corruption and fraud, basically accused by the District Attorney of illegally inflating salaries and benefits for herself, Rizzo and a handful of others, keeping it secret from the City Council, and then lying about it when asked about it by members of the public (that's a general summation of 13 separate counts).
But under four days of direct examination by her attorney Harland Braun, Spaccia has consistently maintained that all she did, essentially, was shuffle paper, when she was there at all (she was off taking care of grandparents, caring for her son at full salary. She was loaned out to help straighten out nearby Maywood, and that was so tough she likened the stress to ''being under combat". ) She never dreamed that anything going on was illegal, that she was advised by the City Atty's all was good, that she had no reason to ever suspect her boss Rizzo would do anything illegal (except for one or two things she mentioned). Like when she repeated in an email Rizzo's saying that ' pigs get fat hogs get slaughtered as long as we're not hogs we're all OK," she was just joking around, hilarious. A couple of days later another email ''we've crafted our agreements carefully to avoid calling attention to our pay." What did that mean? Not really explained, but it certainly was no attempt to hide anything she insisted, that was just the way cities did it. Bell maybe. Spaccia is trying to come off as personable and honest (and apparently ignorant of municipal finance despite 30 years in the field) to the jury. Is it working ? Well, most of us who've been in court say ''not so much'' but remember, it only takes one.
Angela Spaccia, like millions of others in this country, is a 55-year-old divorced mom who lost her job and has an uncertain future. Unlike most though, if things don't go her way she could be spending up to the next 16 years of her life in state prison.
Spaccia is the former assistant City Manager of the once corrupt small city of Bell. She's the last of 8 former city officials to go on trial.
Robert Rizzo, the alleged mastermind, who paid himself a BASE salary of almost 800 grand ( to run a city of about 38,000) already pleaded guilty to 69 counts of corruption and is looking at 12 years when he's sentenced next month.
Five of six former council people were convicted earlier this year. Since some of the charges were hung, they'll be retried, and sentencing won't happen until all that's done, hopefully in our lifetime.
Spaccia, whose base was about 370 thousand (she has an associate degree and specializes in municipal budgets and finance) is on her own, her former boss has turned on her, he may even testify against her. Meantime, she was fighting for her life, literally and figuratively, on the witness stand in the storied 9th floor of the Criminal Courts Building, which as you know if you read me, is not my favorite place, though it has an incredible history in LA news coverage (do the initials OJ mean anything for starters?) I can still see the magnificent and impeccable Dominick Dunne scribbling away in his green leather bound notebook getting real scoop while the rest of us tried to look cool).
Anyway, Spaccia was crying within about a minute of taking the stand, remembering her son's injuries from a car accident that resulted in her having to take time off from work , though due to the generosity of her former friend Rizzo, she got paid in full. She also got paid in full "working on projects from home" while she cared for her grandparents and dealt with a second accident her son had. She actually testified she thought she was overpaid ''Perhaps twice what I needed to be paid'' she told the jury.
How is this helping her ? She's basically charged with arranging massive salaries and pensions and benefits for herself and Rizzo, and hiding the information. ''Misappropriation of public funds'' technically.
Rizzo says she was the mastermind. hmmmm.... he was there since the early 90s, she got there in '02 when, supposedly, everything changed. She blames him, he blames her. Cross examination should be tomorrow (again, free and open to the public, see the actual criminal justice system in action , it ain't Law and Order).
What's really cool for me , too, personally, is to see the two reporters who broke this story, Jeff Gottleib and Ruben Vives of the LA Times right there in the front row. They already have one Pulitzer on the shelf and there may be more in their lives, but they're hungry and intense and smart and their readers are well served.
I'm sure Rizzo, Spaccia, and the rest of them wish those two were never born, but as Spaccia said in one of her emails negotiating contract terms with the the former Police Chief Randy Adams, she and Rizzo hired for about 450K (Charlie Beck gets about 300K, the Commissioner of the NYPD about 250K ) ''Pigs get fat.. hogs get slaughtered''.
Which one is she ?