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Bell trial: 'Were you Robert Rizzo's girlfriend?' D.A. asks

February 13, 2013 |  2:09 pm

Photo: Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appears in Los Angeles Superior court in 2012. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

A former Bell councilwoman standing trial along with five others in a municipal corruption case was described by family members and a former colleague as a dedicated city leader who put the needs of others far ahead of her own.

Among those called to testify was Annette Peretz, Bell’s former director of community services who was earning $273,000 a year when she retired shortly after the scandal broke in the summer of 2010.

The court received a jolt, though, when Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller opened his cross-examination by asking: “Were you Robert Rizzo’s girlfriend?”

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Defense attorney Alex Kessel immediately objected, and Judge Kathleen Kennedy called the attorneys to the bench, out of earshot of jurors.

Kennedy said Peretz did not need to answer the question.

Rizzo, who was earning nearly $800,000 a year when the salary scandal cost him his job, is facing 69 felony counts in the corruption case. His trial will take place later this year.

Peretz testified that Rizzo –- Bell’s former city manager -- was her direct supervisor. She began working for Bell as an intern about 1986 while earning her master’s degree in urban and regional planning at Cal Poly Pomona, she said, and was hired by the city shortly afterward.

Peretz,  testifying on behalf of former councilwoman Teresa Jacobo, testified that she often saw Jacobo meeting with residents at the community center and visiting senior housing facilities.

Peretz, who took a $95,000 city loan from a program Rizzo developed, filed a lawsuit against Bell for retirement and medical benefits. A judge ruled for the city earlier this month.  Rizzo is charged with illegally loaning out city money.

Outside the courtroom, Peretz was asked if she indeed had been romantically involved with Rizzo.

“I have no comment,” she said angrily.

Two of Jacobo’s daughters also testified, describing their mother as someone who taught them to love their neighbor and sometimes brought over homeless people to spend the night.

“We didn’t have a mom,” said Veronica Martinez, 37, her voice full of emotion. “She was always out helping other people. She was basically passionate about her city and her people.

"I’m not saying she neglected us because we were already grown up but you know sometimes she missed family functions to be helping other people and we had to support her because that’s what she loved to do. She loved to be there for her people.”

Also called to the stand was a woman who lives in one of Bell’s mobile home parks. Candalaria Ramirez said Jacobo was a trusted, frequent visitor who responded to residents and was instrumental in firing the management company that residents had complained was mistreating seniors and had racist employees.

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-- Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appears in Los Angeles Superior court in 2012. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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