By Joan Trossman Bien
The City of Bell finally got its day in court as six former city officials were prosecuted for corruption. The jury has not rendered a verdict yet. The trials of former city manager Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spacchia, are coming up.
But one key player in the financial rape of the City of Bell is not on the court docket as a defendant.
Former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams was not indicted by the district attorney’s office along with other city officials. Why wasn’t he included as a defendant?
In fact, more than a year ago, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy commented on how outrageous it was that Adams was escaping prosecution.
At a routine hearing in the Bell case, Kennedy said, “I don’t know why he is not a defendant in this case…It does seem rather curious to me.”
When a defense attorney said that Rizzo hired Adams for his integrity, Kennedy said, “That is not a man of integrity.”
Perhaps Kennedy was thinking about how Adams filed for disability on his final day of work as police chief in Simi Valley. Adams claimed he hurt his back at the office. He then began his new job in Glendale at a much larger salary.
Of course, that wasn’t enough for Adams. It wasn’t enough that his contracts had been bifurcated into two different titles so that no one would ever know exactly how much Adams was earning. That number, far more than the salaries of either the Los Angeles Police Chief or the Los Angeles County Sheriff, was $457,000.
On its face, the employment contract was suspect. Adams signed the documents in 2010 but they were back dated to 2009. All this, while Adams was claiming a disability.
Kennedy commented on Adams’ mind-blowing salary. “It doesn’t make any sense for a police chief in a town of 37,000 to have a salary at that level and a preapproved disability pension. That’s appalling.”
Kennedy was referring to an agreement, signed by Rizzo and Spaccia, that would let Adams retire with a disability pension which allowed him to avoid paying taxes on half of his spectacular pension. That agreement was hidden.
Adams sued the state pension fund in order to get that disability pension. He lost. Still, instead of the $510,000 pension he was seeking, with taxes only on half of it, he ranks number eight in the state’s largest pensions at $240,000 a year. His contract with Bell also includes lifetime medical, dental, and vision insurance for Adams and his dependents, courtesy of the City of Bell.
Adams has also been sued by Bell to recover costs related to a whistle-blower settlement. One of his sergeants, James Corcoran, informed Adams of several allegations of wrong doing by the city. It included voter fraud, seizing vehicles illegally, two instances of sexual harassment by Rizzo, and illegal selling of building permits. When Adams learned that Corcoran had gone to the FBI with these allegations, Adams blew his top. Corcoran was demoted and placed on administrative leave. Adams opened an investigation into insubordination by Corcoran and said he was going to fire him.
Corcoran retired and then sued Bell. The city settled for $400,000 and Corcoran got his job back.
That display of abuse of power should have been enough for Adams to have been charged with corruption. Still, despite the obvious overreaching of his authority and his vendettas against anyone who displeases him, Adams has yet to be criminally charged.
The very essence of greed is never having enough. So it was with Adams, who sued the City of Bell for severance pay. The City said “right back at you,” and sued Adams for the salary he had already taken as well as a portion of the cost of this scandal and litigation being shouldered by the city.
At the hearing, initiated by Adams to appeal the decision refusing to double his pension, Adams took the Fifth Amendment 20 different times during questioning, choosing to remain silent so as not to incriminate himself.
When the court denied Adams’ pension increase, the grounds for the decision were the facts that Adams’ contract was never approved by the Bell City Council and that city officials went to great lengths to keep his salary a secret.
Adams was not finished. He filed for indemnification and attorney’s fees , asking the court to have Bell pay him half a million dollars..
Adams is also suing Bell and the Chief Administrative Officer for breach of contract and defamation. He is asking for unpaid wages, benefits, severance, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages. That adds up to more than half a million dollars. No trial date has been set.
Back to the question posed by Judge Kennedy: why didn’t prosecutors charge Randy Adams along with the other defendants?
Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman said in court, “It was our assessment and still is our assessment that there isn’t enough evidence to make a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt likely as to Adams.”
In a subsequent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Huntsman explained that since Adams signed his contract at a time that he was not employed by Bell, and the fact that he did not control the money for the city, it would be difficult to prove that Adams either defrauded or intended to defraud the city. He said investigators from his office had decided they couldn’t win a conviction.
Adams, a law enforcement expert of nearly four decades, accepted his pay knowing that two different contracts existed for the sole purpose of hiding his true salary. He insisted on a disability pension, IN THE FUTURE and when he was not disabled, not only to double his already inflated pension but for the purpose of evading taxes on the phony pension claim.
Now, Adams is suing everyone who crosses him. This former police chief from three different cities is the definition of a bully. He is getting away with what appears to be an almost endless chain of questionable actions geared towards his own enrichment all the way to the grave.
It appears that Adams, with his insatiable greed and absolute lack of any moral compass, will be free to continue his abuse of citizens and their taxes. Maybe this can be a lesson to other cities. There seems to be a fundamental problem with the manner in which municipalities hire their top officials. Time to get serious about protecting the residents from ill-intended job applicants who want jobs with tremendous power and authority.
After all, prospective employers check out the Facebook pages of applicants for entry level positions. Credit checks are run. Recommendations are checked. At least that much scrutiny should be aimed at the next police chief being hired.
Joan Trossman Bien has been writing news most of her professional life. She started writing as an intern at KNX Newsradio and wrote as a freelancer at nearly every television station in Los Angeles. She graduated from law school in 2004. At present, she is a regular writer for cover features at the Ventura County Reporter and Pasadena Weekly. She enjoys writing about an array of topics including health care, politics, women’s issues, and social justice. Bien lives with her journalist husband in Ventura County. They have one grown daughter who is also a journalist. Bien hales from Glencoe, Ill., a small suburb outside Chicago.