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Bell corruption case: Granted immunity, city clerk takes stand

Rebecca Valdez in 2010The city clerk of Bell was called to the witness stand Friday as the first witness in a municipal corruption trial in which six former council members are accused of paying themselves extraordinary salaries for serving on boards that rarely met and often did nothing.

Rebecca Valdez, who has been granted immunity in exchange for her testimony, had testified in a 2011 preliminary hearing for the council members that she had no idea what the purpose was of some of the boards and commissions, and that she was once asked to cover up their nearly six-figure salaries when a resident asked for financial information.

On the stand Friday, Valdez was shown by a prosecutor several resolutions that had been adopted by the city leaders yet were not signed by the city attorney at that time. One of the documents declared the need for the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.

FULL COVERAGE: Crisis in Bell

The Aug. 15, 2005, resolution was signed only by Valdez and the mayor at the time, George Mirabal. Mirabal is on trial along with Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez and Teresa Jacobo.

“Thinking back to 2005, did Bell have some sort of a trash pickup service?” Dep. Dist. Atty. Edward Miller asked Valdez.

“Yes,” she replied.

“What about after Aug. 15, 2005, was there a trash pickup service?”

“Yes.”

“Were these contractors?”

“Yes.”

“So these weren’t city employees.”

“No."

Valdez testified that she took notes at city council meetings and would write down the start and end time for each meeting. She testified that when she began as city clerk, there were adjournments between each meeting of the various boards, but that in 2008 it changed so that there were no distinct breaks between them.

Valdez is among the current and former city employees in Bell who took loans of city money from former administrator Robert Rizzo. Among the various charges Rizzo faces is that he improperly loaned out city money to colleagues and at least one business owner in town.

In opening statements Thursday, lawyers for the council members put the blame largely on former city attorney Edward Lee and onetime City Administrator Robert Rizzo.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the buck starts with the city attorney,” Cole's attorney told jurors.

Rizzo, defense lawyers said, controlled the city and was the mastermind of the alleged corruption. He faces trial later this year, along with his former assistant, Angela Spaccia.

Attorneys on Friday said Valdez would likely be on the witness stand for several days.

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--Corina Knoll @corinaknoll

Photo: Rebecca Valdez in 2010. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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