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Bell official testifies in corruption case

February 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Defense attorneys Tuesday for six current and former Bell city leaders charged in a corruption case tried to discredit the testimony of the only council member not charged in the sweeping salary scandal.

A Bell resident and civic volunteer for 30 years, Lorenzo Velez testified in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom how he thought the city council worked. He said he thought he could spark change when he won appointment to a council seat.

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

Robert Rizzo, the city administrator, was the gatekeeper of all official business, according to Velez.

Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spacia, face their preliminary hearing next week.

This week, six council members were in court charged of bilking taxpayers out of $5.5 million.

During the second day of a preliminary hearing, Velez testified he doesn't recall taking part in any meetings of four committees for which the other council members collected tens of thousands of dollars.

Velez said he thought his council position was a volunteer job.

He said he was surprised when he received his first monthly paycheck for $621. He later learned his colleagues were earning $100,000 a year.

Velez testified Rizzo told him the council members' salaries were to compensate for things like conferences they attended. He also read in court minutes from a council agenda, where one alleged phony agency met for only four minutes.

The council members' defense was that salaries were legally approved and that records were publicly available.

Prosecutors offered a plea deal to six of the "Bell Eight," but the deal was rejected by attorneys for the defendants, according to the Los Angeles Times.

They rejected a plea deal that would've had them pleading guilty to two years in prison and then paying restitution.

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.