Second week begins for preliminary hearings in Bell corruption case

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Al Seib/AFP/Getty Images

Former Bell city employees (left to right) Robert Rizzo, Angela Spaccia, Victor Bello and Oscar Hernandez attend a bail reduction hearing on Sept. 22, 2010 in Los Angeles.

Testimony resumes today in preliminary hearings for eight Bell city officials facing corruption charges. Six City Council members are scheduled to appear in court during the second week of hearings.

So far, a judge has heard testimony from two witnesses. The first was Lorenzo Velez – the only member of the Bell City Council who doesn’t face criminal charges. He told the court that he was in the dark about the high salaries his colleagues were pulling in.

Attorneys later questioned city clerk Rebecca Valdez. She said a Bell resident sent her an official public request demanding to know about those council salaries.

Valdez claimed that under the direction of the city manager at the time, Robert Rizzo, a city employee fudged the salary figures to make it appear as though the city paid officials considerably less than they really made.

Late last week, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller discussed strategy with Valdez on the stand. “The city clerk is going to authenticate all the documents showing that the Solid Waste Authority has only met twice for the purpose of giving themselves raises. And she is not aware of any work that the authority has ever done outside of those two meeting where they voted themselves raises.”

In their cross-examination of the city clerk, defense attorney Ronald Kaye and others tried to weaken the prosecution’s case by demonstrating that Valdez didn’t know what she was talking about.

Here’s what Kaye said about the clerk’s testimony after the most recent hearing. “I anticipate that she cannot wiggle out of the fact she didn’t have knowledge about what these City Council members were doing. They were hardworking, they were working on solid waste issues, pubic finance issues, all the issues necessary was their full schedule.”

The prosecution has granted partial immunity to city clerk Rebecca Valdez. After the first round of preliminary hearings in the fraud case ends for Bell City Council members – possibly as soon as this week – the second phase begins for former city manager Rizzo and his assistant.

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