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Ex-Bell official testifies she seldom questioned city manager

Former Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo testifies in the corruption trial of six ex-council members that she seldom questioned Robert Rizzo — even when he told her he was giving himself raises.

February 08, 2013|By Jeff Gottlieb and Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Bell City Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo testified Friday that she seldom questioned City Manager Robert Rizzo. She is seen here in court last month.
Former Bell City Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo testified Friday that she… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

While she portrayed herself as a hard-working city leader who put in long hours, a former Bell councilwoman testified she seldom questioned the town's city manager — even when he told her he was giving himself raises.

Teresa Jacobo, who returned to the witness stand Friday in the trial of six former Bell council members accused of corruption, testified that in 2006, former City Manager Robert Rizzo told the council he was giving himself a raise.

"He informed us he was going to give himself a raise to $325,000 or $350,000," she said.

"Without a contract?" asked Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller.

"Not at the specific time he told us."

"And that was OK with you?"

"I expected to see a contract later."

"Did you ask for one?" Miller asked.

"No."

Rizzo's salary eventually reached nearly $800,000. Among the 69 criminal counts he'll face at trial later this year is that he gave himself raises without council approval.

Jacobo and former council members Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez and George Mirabal are accused of being paid for meetings of city boards that seldom met. Pay from those meetings bumped their salaries to about $100,000 a year.

At times Jacobo contradicted her own testimony. In other instances, she replied that she couldn't remember or didn't know.

When the council voted itself a 12% annual pay increase from the authorities in 2008, Rizzo told her it was a cost-of-living raise.

"You consider that a cost-of-living?" Miller asked.

"That's what his answer was," she replied.

"And you agreed with that answer?"

"I didn't precisely agree or disagree," she said.

Miller asked her if she thought a pay raise in a city with a median household income of $35,000 would be "good for the citizens of Bell."

"I thought I was doing a very good job to be able to earn that, yes," Jacobo replied.

The former council member said that she made $673 a month shortly after being appointed to the council in 2001 and sold real estate as her regular job.

It was Rizzo, she testified, who informed her early in her council stint that she would be getting a raise and working full time for the city. But, she said, no one mentioned she needed to increase her workload or to devote a certain amount of time to the authorities who were paying her.

Jacobo testified she often worked for the authorities outside of meetings, and her business cards included her cell and home phone numbers. Residents would call her at all hours, she testified, for help with city issues. She said she would pay for hotel rooms for the homeless out of her own pocket.

Besides her salary, the city paid a $61,072 lump sum in 2007 to buy Jacobo an additional five years of service time in the state pension system. Part of retirees' pensions is determined by their length of service.

Though employees in the California Public Employees' Retirement System were allowed to purchase service time, the agency said it was unlawful for a city to buy it for them.

Miller asked Jacobo to look through Bell's budget and find where the city was authorized to make such a purchase.

"I wouldn't know where to look," she said.

"Start with the table of contents," he replied.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

corina.knoll@latimes.com

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