Bell defense attorneys say witness not being honest, knew of boards that contributed to high salaries
Defense attorneys for six current and former Bell city leaders strived Tuesday to impeach the testimony of a councilman who told the court that he was stunned at how much his colleagues were earning and wasn’t even familiar with the boards and commissions from which they drew most of their salary.
Councilman Lorenzo Velez, the only sitting council member in Bell not charged in a sweeping public corruption case, was asked repeatedly whether he recalled telling investigators last July that he was familiar with at least two of the boards and had voted in favor of authorizing payments to one of them.
“If ignorance is a crime, I guess I’m guilty,” Velez said at one point.
During the morning-long exchanges, Velez at times seemed confused and rattled.
After the morning session, Velez said he felt intimidated on the witness stand. “They're pushing me to answer things I can't recollect,” he said.
Defense attorneys are set to resume crossing-examining Velez on Thursday afternoon and said they’ll attempt to undermine his testimony and value as a prosecution witness.
“You can’t be Rebecca of Stonybrook sitting on the council for as long as he has,” said Stanley Friedman, the attorney representing Mayor Oscar Hernandez -- who is among six former or current council members charged with misappropriating city money.
Asked by prosecutor Edward Miller who ran the city, Velez replied, “Mr. Robert Rizzo.” He later added, “As a citizen, I thought it was the council that ran the city … but when I started participating, I found out otherwise. Everything had to go past Mr. Robert Rizzo for it to be addressed.”
Velez testified that after he was sworn in as a councilman in October 2009, Rizzo came behind him and said he couldn’t participate in the meetings.
“I was sitting in my council seat, and Rizzo said in my ear, 'By the way, you can’t vote on any of these issues because you’re not a council member yet.'”
He also said that Hernandez and then-council member Luis Artiga were the members of the panel whom Rizzo consulted most frequently, and that Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal complained they were not consulted.
--Jeff Gottlieb, Corina Knoll and Christopher Goffard
Photo: Lorenzo Velez attends a news conference in front of Bell City Hall on Feb. 4. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times