First Bell defendant takes stand in corruption trial
Teresa Jacobo on Thursday became the first defendant to take the stand in the corruption case of six Bell council members accused of raiding the city treasury by drawing extraordinary salaries.
Slightly built and not quite 5 feet tall, Jacobo testified she made $500 a month when she came onto the council in 2001 and continued selling real estate.
Before a council meeting one day, she testified, then-City Manager Robert Rizzo called her into his office along with City Atty. Edward Lee.
"He told me he had great news for me," Jacobo said. "He told me I would be able work full time and devote all my time and effort to this community of Bell and I was now getting a full-time salary."
Rizzo didn't tell her how much she would be making, she said. Jacobo said she then asked Rizzo and Lee if that was really possible.
"Mr. Rizzo said yes and Mr. Lee acknowledged, nodding his head," she said.
"My feeling was if the city attorney said to do so, it must be legal," she said in response to a question from her attorney.
Vincent Cervantes, owner of the realty company Jacobo worked for, testified she stopped working full time in 2002 or 2003.
The defendants, who made as much as $100,000 a year, have been charged with misappropriation of public funds for being paid as members of city boards that hardly ever met, if at all.
Much of the defense has been that the council followed Rizzo's lead, that the city attorney never said anything was wrong with their salaries, and that their positions were really full-time jobs. Jacobo bolstered the portrayal of Rizzo as a control freak who didn't want council members to speak to city staff or to question him.
"He said I asked too many questions," she testified.
Jacobo said that when she asked questions of a city employee, she would get a call from a city attorney, usually Tom Brown, within an hour admonishing her. At times, she said, Rizzo "made me feel like a child."
Jacobo's testimony is expected to continue Friday. George Cole is the only other defendant who has said he would testify. The other defendants are Luis Artiga, Oscar Hernandez, George Mirabal and Victor Bello.
-- Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Teresa Jacobo in a file photo from a 2010 court hearing. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times