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Bell trial: Councilman went to D.A. in '09 about high salaries

February 6, 2013 |  2:30 pm

Victor Bello in Los Angeles Superior Court on opening day of criminal trial last month. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angles Times.

The first time authorities learned that Bell City Council members were drawing nearly six-figure salaries was during an interview with former Councilman Victor Bello, a district attorney's investigator testified Wednesday.

The investigator, Maria Grimaldo, testified that Bello wrote a letter to the district attorney on May 6, 2009, alleging misconduct in Bell.

However, he was not interviewed until 10-1/2 months later, the witness said. The reason for the delay was not discussed.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Grimaldo testified that Bello had made at least two other complaints about problems in Bell, one of them as far back as October 2006.

The high salaries were revealed by the L.A. Times in 2010 and council members, along with two top administrators, were arrested later that year.

Grimaldo is expected to be the last prosecution witness in the corruption case against six former Bell council members accused of being paid for serving on boards that seldom, if ever, met.

A short excerpt of a 2010 interview with Bello was played for the jury. In the interview, Bello is heard telling Grimaldo he had resigned from the council and was given a job at the city food bank for the same $97,000 salary he earned on the council.

The job, he explains in the interview, was supposed to last until March 2011, when his council term would have expired. 

“I went to the city and said I wanted to quit," Bello said, talking about his council seat. "I wanted to retire…. They said they can do this for me until my term is up.”

When he heard how much Bello was making, another investigator can be heard asking:  "Your monthly salary as council member is how much?”

“About $100,000 a year,” Bello replied.

In the interview, Bello said that the advantage of Bell becoming a charter city in 2006 was that council members could draw higher salaries.

"Mr. Rizzo said one of the reasons to become a charter city is the council would be able to be paid better than the law allowed,” he said in the interview.

Grimaldo also testified that the district attorney's office had difficulty getting salary records from Bell. After the D.A.'s office hand-delivered a public records request to the city on April 16, 2010, City Clerk Rebecca Valdez responded two weeks later saying she couldn't respond right away, he said.

When the D.A. finally received records, they were incomplete, Grimaldo said.

The district attorney's office, he said, eventually filed a grand jury subpoena to force the city to turn over the documents.

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-- Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Victor Bello in Los Angeles Superior Court on opening day of criminal trial last month. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angles Times.

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