LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Nearly a year and a half after the “Bell 8” were arrested for alleged excessive salaries and corruption, one official has become the first city council member of the group to speak publicly on the charges.
KNX 1070’s John Brooks reports former mayor and longtime city councilman Victor Bello maintains his innocence while alleging at least one of his former colleagues is guilty.
Bello, 53, whose family came to the U.S. from Cuba when he was a teenager, raised his own 3 children in Bell and was living the American dream when he got elected to the city council in 1998.
After serving as mayor for a year, Bello’s world came crashing down when despite years of trying to tell the district attorney and FBI of possible corruption in the city, he was ignored as a whistle blower and ultimately arrested with seven other former city officials.
Months later, Bello said he is broke, depressed, and without much will to live.
“It’s sad,” he said. “You do something and hope you’re going to do something right, the next thing you know, you’re whole world is caving in on you.”
Bello said his family has a history of depression, with a father who committed suicide and an uncle who died in a psychiatric hospital.
After his arrest for receiving a $96,000 city council salary that he thought was perfectly legal, Bello sat in jail for five months unable to make bail — the only one of the Bell 8 to spend that much time behind bars.
Now his lawyer has been suspended from the bar and Bello has no money to hire another one.
“The lawyer that I had, unfortunately he was not able to continue, so I’m looking for one now pro bono who wants to help and that understands that I’m not guilty,” Bello said. “All I’ve done is do the right thing.”
Bello said he attempted to expose corruption in Bell back in 2006, when he said he called the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, the FBI and even sent a letter to district attorney Steve Cooley in 2009 about possible bribery, shady real estate deals and police misconduct.
He called former city manager Robert Rizzo the source of corruption in Bell and the one responsible for city council salaries soaring into the stratosphere.
“If the audit company shows everything’s OK, the attorney says it’s OK, Rizzo says it’s OK, you don’t suspect anything,” said Bello.
Rizzo — who was earning $1.5 million in his final year on the job — reportedly clashed numerous times with Bello over salary and pension packages amid rumors that Rizzo had a vast horse ranch in Washington state, according to Bello.
Bello, Rizzo and the rest of the Bell 8 are due back in court at the end of February.