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Councilman: Robert Rizzo ran city of Bell

February 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Councilman Lorenzo Velez, the sole member of the Bell City Council not facing criminal charges, testified Wednesday that former City Manager Robert Rizzo called the shots and even told council members how to vote on most issues.

Wednesday was the third day of the hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to send six Bell public officials to trial on dozens of fraud charges.

Velez admitted in court that he did not remember details of what went on during council meetings and that he could not remember some of his testimony from Monday.

Velez also told the court that he had a conversation with the district attorney about trying his best to remember things and to relax and that he was intimidated by all of the attorneys.

On Tuesday, Velez said he did not know that his colleagues on the council were making nearly $100,000 a year until he read about it in the press last summer. Meanwhile, Velez was making less than $7,500 for the part-time job.

"I asked them, 'Do you really make this money?' and there was a moment of silence," Velez said about confronting the other members of the council. "Somebody made a comment, 'Yes, and the only reason you don't make this salary is because you weren't elected, you were appointed.'"

Rizzo has been charged with more than 50 fraud charges. A preliminary hearing for him and former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia is scheduled for sometime next week.

The six public officials who are the subject of the current preliminary hearing are Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez; Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo; Councilman George Mirabal; former Mayor George Cole; former Councilmen Luis Artiga and Victor Bello.

The "Bell Eight" are accused of illegally boosting their salaries by serving on public agencies that prosecutors say were just a sham.

Velez said when he was first appointed to the council he thought he could make a difference.

"But when I started participating I found out otherwise, that everything had to go through Robert Rizzo before it could be addressed," Velez testified.

Defense attorneys attacked Velez's credibility, pointing out that the councilman sometimes contradicted himself under cross examination. The defense said their clients conducted legitimate business in public.

Longtime Bell City Clerk Rebecca Valdez also testified during Wednesday's proceedings.

Valdez testified that council members were paid for meetings that never occurred.

Residents said they want the accused Bell officials to go to trial and pay back the city. Voters will elect new council members when they head to the polls in March.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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