Most of us associate a determination of disability with the inability to perform some or all aspects of a job. But most us do not work in Bell, California.
When former Bell police chief Randy Adams agreed to leave his job as chief in Glendale and run the department in Bell, he entered into an unusual agreement with city administrator Robert Rizzo. The agreement stipulated that Adams was disabled, suffering from the lingering effects of back, knee and neck injuries sustained in his prior public safety jobs. His attorney, Mark Pachowicz, said the agreement was designed to ensure that his client would not have to fight Bell for a medical pension.
Lest you think that Bell simply had an aggressive "hire the handicapped" program, it appears that Adams was able to perform all the duties of his job, with no accommodation required. In other words, this "disabled" hire was indistinguishable from able-bodied applicants for the job. There was a single stipulation of "no heavy lifting" - for a job which required no heavy lifting.
An Offer He Could Not Refuse
Rizzo considered Adams so capable, he hired him into two positions: police chief and special police counsel. Bell was so anxious to secure Adams's services, they offered him $457,000 a year, double his prior salary. The hiring agreement qualified Adams for a tax-free disability benefit of $205,000 per year. Oh, did I mention that the hiring agreement also provided lifetime health insurance for Adams and his dependents, with no vesting period? Sure, that sounds like a pretty generous package, but Rizzo himself was pulling down $787,000 for taking on the burdens of managing the relatively small (pop. 40,000) working class town.
During his prior employment, Adams settled a workers comp claim for $45,000, following back surgery. He returned to work after a two week absence - which makes the amount of settlement appear rather generous. The comp settlement, however, is chump change compared to the irrestible benefits of working for Bell.
Fortunately for the beleagured Bell (and California) tax payers, this entire corrupt edifice came crashing down with the arrest of Rizzo and his numerous co-conspirators. (Adams has not been charged.) The status of Adams's questionable hiring agreement with the city remains unresolved. As spokesperson for the California Public Employee's Retirement System Ed Fong put it: "You're only supposed to receive a disability retirement if you are disabled and unable to perform the normal duties of your job. If that is not the case, it would be fraud."
In Bell they called it "standard operating procedure." It was lucrative while it lasted. But the bell has tolled, bringing to an abrupt end a corruption scheme of All-American proportions.