LOS ANGELES (CN) – An appeals court has reversed five out of 11 counts against a former city of Bell official convicted for taking part in an infamous corruption scandal that almost bankrupted the city.
On Friday, the Second Appellate District Court of Appeals for California reversed five counts of misappropriation of public funds against former city manager Pier’Angela Spaccia. The court ruled that the jury instructions resulted in a conviction based solely on the fact that Spaccia was an official, without the prosecution having to demonstrate that she had “some material degree of control over public funds.”
“Furthermore, we cannot say the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” Justice Luis A. Lavin wrote for the three-judge panel in a 43-page opinion.
The scandal in Bell, a small city in Los Angeles County, exploded seven years ago when the salaries of its top officials came to light, and the public learned that the city paid six administrators combined annual salaries of $6 million.
Robert Rizzo, Bell’s former chief administrative officer, stood at the center of the corruption scandal. In 2014, he was sentenced to 12 years in state prison and ordered to pay $8.8 million in restitution. His annual salary of $300,000 ballooned to $800,000 by the time he resigned in the summer of 2010, meaning he made twice as much as the President of the United States.
Spaccia also received an 11-year, eight-month sentence in state prison in April 2014 and was ordered to pay more than $8.2 million in restitution. A jury convicted her of secreting an official record and conspiracy to misappropriate public funds, along with counts of misappropriation of public funds and four counts of conflict of interest by a public official.
In 2010, Spaccia earned an annual salary of $340,000 in addition to other benefits.
Jurors also convicted five other council members for their part in a salary and benefits scheme that officials concealed from the city’s taxpayers.
The court affirmed Spaccia’s conviction for conflict of interest because of her role in the amendment of Bell’s pension plan to benefit Rizzo and her. The appeals court also directed the trial court to correct an abstract of a judgment that improperly stated that Spaccia must serve her time in state prison because of a current or previous conviction for a serious or violent felony charge.