LOS ANGELES (CN) – The former police chief says the now-notorious City of Bell should pay his legal costs for defending himself in the city’s salary scandal. Randy Adams came out of retirement to accept a job as the city’s top cop for $457,000 a year, “with added benefits.”
Bell, a Los Angeles suburb of about 36,000, made world headlines last year when the salaries of its top officials were revealed. State auditors found that the city’s six highest-paid administrators received combined annual salaries of $6 million.
Then-City Manager Robert Rizzo not only got $1.5 million in total compensation a year, he gave himself an interest-free loan of $93,000 and paid it back with money the City Council had put into his retirement fund, the Los Angeles Times reported in November. Rizzo’s base salary of $787,000 a year was nearly twice the salary of the U.S. president. The excessive salaries put the blue-collar town on the edge of bankruptcy.
Four of the city’s five-member council were paid more than $100,000 a year for their part-time jobs. The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged Rizzo, the four council members, and four other former officials with misappropriating public funds. Mayor Oscar Hernandez and the four council members all resigned or were recalled.
Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, who was one of those sued by the state, earned $376,000 a year.
Adams’ $457,000 salary was 50 percent higher than the salary of the Los Angeles police chief, according to the L.A. Times. Spending on police services in Bell was cut by 58 percent in 2009, the year Adams was hired, according to the Times, which cited the city’s financial report for that fiscal year.
Adams resigned in July 2010.
Adams denies any wrongdoing in his 14-page Superior Court complaint. He says Rizzo persuaded him to come out of retirement the month after he stepped down as police chief of Glendale, where he had been chief for 7 years.
Adams says he rejected the City of Bell’s offer, but it “persistently pursued” him, telling him “that it needed someone with his credentials, experience and long-standing reputation to serve as police chief in order to fix the numerous problems with the city’s police department.”
Adams says he “interacted primarily” with Rizzo and Spaccia during his salary negotiations, which “spanned over 2 months and included several drafts of employment contracts.”
“In the course of his due diligence, Adams asked Spaccia whether Rizzo had the legal authority to enter into such a contract on behalf of the City,” the complaint states. “Spaccia informed Adams that Rizzo had such authority and that his employment contract was enforceable and non-fraudulent. Thus, Adams did not, and had no reason to believe, that there was any impropriety surrounding his hiring, contract, or salary relating thereto.
“Additionally, Adams contacted the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office to inquire as to the propriety of the city’s offer. Personnel from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office encouraged Adams to accept the city’s offer of employment.”
Adams says he accepted the city’s offer and signed his contract on May 29, 2009.
On Sept. 15, 2010, the California attorney general sued Rizzo et al., “asserting causes of action against Adams based on allegations that he wasted public funds, breached his fiduciary duty to the city, and violated the public trust,” Adams says in his complaint.
“The claims were based entirely on the fact that Adams had agreed to come out of retirement to serve as the police chief of the city, and in that regard, agreed to accept a negotiated yearly salary of $457,000 with added benefits.”
Adams says he filed a demurrer to the state’s amended complaint on Dec. 20, 2010, “on the grounds that the attorney general failed to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action against Adams.” He says Superior Court Judge Ralph Dau “sustained Adams’ demurrer to the FAC [first amended complaint] without leave to amend on all causes of action asserted against Adams.”
Then, Adams says, “Adams, through his attorneys, sent a request to the City Attorney, Raul Salinas, seeking indemnification from the city for the legal fees and costs incurred by Adams in connection with his defense in People v. Rizzo; a possible fraud investigation against him conducted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office; and a possible investigation of towing services being conducted by the United States Department of Justice.”
He says Salinas refused to indemnify or defend him, without explanation, and that the city did not respond to his attorney’s request for “the specific factual and legal basis” for its denial.
Adams’ attorney Thomas O’Brien told Courthouse News that Bell had a “clear statutory and contractual obligation to defend” his client.
“All we are asking the city to do is follow the law,” O’Brien said.
A Los Angeles County grand jury indicted Rizzo and Spaccia in March on new charges of misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, and falsifying and hiding public documents. That indictment also accused the two of falsifying Adams’ contract and hiding records that showed he was being paid nearly $10,000 extra per pay period.
In August this year, Bell suedits former city attorney, Edward Lee, and the two law firms he worked for, claiming that Lee’s flawed legal advice allowed Rizzo and others to pay themselves inflated salaries.
Adams seeks implied indemnity, equitable indemnity, contractual indemnity, statutory indemnity and declaratory relief.
In an email to Courthouse News, Bell City Councilman Nestor Valencia described Adams’ lawsuit as “shameful,” and said it was made “on the backs” of city residents.
“He conspired with former council members and staff to keep his salary secret and left our police department without a budget or good management,” Valencia said. “Who in the DA said it was ‘legal’ to accept $400k a year?”
Valencia added, “The DA should recluse itself from the criminal case and give it to the federal government to investigate. Adams’ lawsuit and its implications about the DA’s involvement is clearly preserved corruption against the residents of Bell, and, if his suit prevails, he is going to screw the people twice.”