Former Bell Councilman Victor Bello listens to opening statements. Bello… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)
A former Bell councilman on trial in a city corruption scandal told district attorney's investigators about the $100,000 annual pay that council members were earning three months before The Times publicly revealed the huge paychecks.
Victor Bello had written a letter to the Los Angeles County district attorney with allegations of misconduct in Bell on May 6, 2009, but was not interviewed until 101/2 months later, district attorney's investigator Maria Grimaldo testified Wednesday. She was not asked the reason for the delay nor what the allegations were.
During the taped interview, a portion of which was played in court, Bello rambled about his jobs as a home inspector and phone jack installer and how he wanted to retire and collect on his $3,900 monthly city pension.
"Your monthly salary as a council member is how much a month? investigator Mike Holguin asks. "You said $3,900?"
"No, no, no, no," Bello replies, according to the transcript. "It's about $100,000."
"A $100,000 a year?" Grimaldo asks.
"That's as a council member for, uh, for Bell?" Holguin adds.
Grimaldo testified that Bello, who stood to collect a pension for his council service, had made at least two other complaints about problems in Bell, one of them as far back as October 2006.
The high salaries were revealed by The Times in June 2010 and council members, along with two top administrators, were arrested later that year. Though delayed, Bello's interview set off a criminal investigation.
Grimaldo was the final prosecution witness in the corruption case against six former Bell council members accused of being paid for serving on boards that seldom, if ever, met. On trial are Bello, Luis Artiga, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal.
In the interview with the district attorney's investigators, Bello told Grimaldo that he had resigned from the council and was given a job at the city food bank for the same salary he earned on the council.
The job, he explained in the interview, was supposed to last until March 2011, when his council term would have expired.
"I went to the city and said I wanted to quit," Bello said, talking about his council seat. "I wanted to retire…. They said they can do this for me until my term is up."
Bello also said that Robert Rizzo, the city's former chief executive, had pushed the idea of Bell becoming a charter city because "the council would be able to be paid better than the law allowed."