LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Bell’s city clerk testified Wednesday that she never saw any work produced by four commissions on which City Council members sat and for which they received separate salaries that boosted their annual pay to nearly $100,000 a year.
City Clerk Rebecca Valdez said she saw no work produced by four special public boards ostensibly devoted to housing, surplus property, waste and recycling, and finance.
Although minutes of the committee meetings — some lasting less than 60 seconds — were sometimes added to Bell City Council paperwork, Valdez said she had little sense of what the boards were supposed to accomplish.
Asked by Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller what, for example, the Bell Surplus Housing Authority was designed to work on, Valdez responded softly: “I’m not too sure. I don’t know.”
Miller said a commission called the Solid Waste Authority was “a solid waste of money.”
The longtime Bell city clerk is the second witness to be called during the first of three back-to-back preliminary hearings for eight current and former members of the Bell City Council facing charges that they were paid for meetings that did not occur or lasted only a few minutes.
The hearings will determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward with a criminal trial. The defendants are charged with helping loot the small Los Angeles city of about $5.5 million.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall is first considering the case against Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 63; Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, 53; Councilman George Mirabal, 61, and former Councilmen Luis Artiga, 49; George Cole, 61; and Victor Bello, 52.
The judge is next expected to hear evidence against former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, 57; former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, 52; as well as additional charges against Hernandez and Artiga. That case could begin sometime next week.
Rizzo is also charged with conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds in a separate case that is expected to be heard last and to take about a day.
The eight were arrested Sept. 21 in connection with allegations that they bilked taxpayers through hefty salaries, benefits and illicit loans of public money.
All but Bello have been freed on bail.
Councilman Lorenzo Velez, the only Bell council member not being prosecuted, wrapped up three days of testimony late Wednesday, telling the court how shocked he was to read in the Los Angeles Times last June that his fellow council members were making nearly $100,000 a year to his $8,000 annual salary.
Velez said when he read the news that day, he immediately called Rizzo — who was earning nearly $800,000 a year — to find out if the report was true.
“He said, `Yes, they do (make that much money),”‘ recalled Velez, who works as a heavy equipment operator for the city of Los Angeles.
Velez said Rizzo told him that the reason he didn’t make as much as the others was because he was appointed, not elected to the part-time council.
KNX 1070’s Bill Cooper reports defense attorneys jumped on Velez’s testimony, alleging he could not remember details of certain meetings and contradicted himself under cross-examination.
Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down last July after the salary scandal broke.
The City Council members agreed to significantly slash their pay, but most balked at calls for their resignations. Artiga announced last October that he was leaving his post.
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