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Bell testimony centers on Robert Rizzo's big salary

March 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Friday's testimony on the Bell corruption scandal focused on former City Administrator Robert Rizzo - his big salary and how he got it.

The big question is who signed a number of Rizzo's employment contracts. The former city attorney testified that it looked like his signature but claimed he didn't sign them. It all goes to the district attorney's case that alleged Rizzo changed the contracts himself.

"I became aware of these kinds of loans only towards July of 2010," said former Bell City Attorney Ed Lee.

Lee said that's when he started to discover documents that he didn't know existed. He testified he created the original employment contract between the city and Rizzo back in 1996 and it was approved by the city council.

But beginning in 2005 and later, there are several addendums that he claimed he didn't create. And even though they appear to have his signature, he said he didn't sign them.

"I think he's mistaken," said Rizzo's attorney James Spertus. He said the addendums were legal and approved by the city council.

"His testimony, like the other witnesses in this case, is hopefully going to keep him out of the cross hairs," said Spertus. "He obviously doesn't want to be blamed for signing these contracts. But I think it is irrefutable that he did in fact sign them."

In earlier testimony, the Bell city clerk testified that Rizzo told her to change his contracts and then placed the document in a stack of papers to be signed by the Mayor.

"Mr. Hernandez was handed a stack of documents by the city clerk," said Stanley Friedman. "And she tricked him."

Friedman represents Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, who claimed he trusted the city clerk and did not know any of this was happening.

"It was just 'sign here,' and that's what Mayor Hernandez did," said Friedman. "And those were the contracts that apparently had significantly enhanced Mr. Rizzo's salary."

The preliminary hearing was expected to wrap up next week, and then the judge will decide if there is enough evidence for Rizzo to stand trial.