LOS ANGELES (AP) — An administrator for the scandal-ridden California city of Bell testified Tuesday that she compiled false information that was given to a resident who demanded to know how much elected officials were paid.
Lourdes Garcia, administrative services director, said she was following the orders of Bell’s disgraced former city manager, Robert Rizzo, and didn’t feel good about what she was doing.
The salary figures she provided were only a fraction of what Rizzo and other top officials were actually making, Garcia said.
“I felt uncomfortable and that’s why I didn’t put my name on it,” she said of her report.
Garcia, who has been granted immunity from prosecution, testified during the sixth day of a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to send the mayor, vice mayor and four other current and former members of the Bell City Council to trial on charges of taking part in a scam to loot $5.5 million from the working-class suburb of Los Angeles.
Rizzo, who had an annual salary and benefits package of $1.5 million, is accused of illegally funneling millions of dollars of taxpayer money to himself, council members and others.
He faces a separate preliminary hearing.
Each of the current and former officials who are subjects of the current hearing were paid about $100,000 a year for service on a City Council that meets about once a month.
Garcia testified that as far as she knew, all six were honest, hardworking people. She said she didn’t believe they knew that Rizzo had her compile inaccurate salary figures for the public or that he paid himself and others through salary contracts that he never had the authority to issue.
In the case of the City Council members, prosecutors say the bulk of those salaries were for sitting on bogus boards and commissions that did no work.
Garcia testified Tuesday that Bell resident Roger Ramirez asked for the figures after hearing rumors of huge salaries paid to city officials.
She said she didn’t know the figures were for a legally mandated public records request filed by Ramirez.
Garcia’s husband, who also works for the city, sat in court during her testimony until Superior Court Judge Henry Hall ordered him removed, accusing him of trying to pass messages to his wife.
“They said I was signaling but I wasn’t,” he said outside court. He declined to give his first name.
Garcia herself was one of Bell’s highest-paid employees, earning more than $400,000 a year until the salary scandal broke last summer. She has since taken a 61 percent pay cut.
She testified that she received several raises from Rizzo over the years and never questioned them.
“I believed it was a legal contract,” she said.
Like other Bell employees, she also received loans from Rizzo that were taken from public funds — one for $100,000 and another for $77,000. She said she believed those were also legal.
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