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Bell trial: Ex-councilman has 'mental issues,' attorney says

February 7, 2013 |  2:05 pm

Former Bell councilman Victor Bello in court last month on opening day of trial. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Former councilman Victor Bello, one of the defendants in the Bell corruption case, takes medicine for depression and suicidal tendencies and was an outcast in city government because of his angry tangles with the city manager.

"He has a life filled with troubled waters," Bello's attorney Leo Moriarity told the jury Thursday. "He has certain mental state issues … regarding his ability to function all of the time in a proper manner.”

With the prosecution resting its case Wednesday, Moriarity began the defense case with his opening statement. The other defense attorneys made their opening statements when the trial began last month.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Bello and five other former council members are on trial for allegedly being paid for city board meetings that seldom met, if ever, boosting their salaries into six figures.

Bello was banned from city hall in 2005 or the following year, Moriarity said.

One reason may have been because of an incident at a city affair at which Bello thought city manager Robert Rizzo made a derogatory statement about him, the defense attorney said.

"He came up to Mr. Rizzo and confronted him," Moriarity said. "He got very, very angry. There was yelling back and forth.

“Some people say Mr. Bello grabbed Mr. Rizzo by the lapels. Others say that didn’t happen,” he added.

Another reason may have been a sexual harassment complaint someone filed after Bello, who had attended a workshop on sexually transmitted diseases, was seen passing out condoms at City Hall, Moriarity said.

Bello, Moriarity said, "was obstinate and stubborn" and sometimes became frustrated at council meetings.

“These problems he has continue on to this day, but he’s not a bad man," Moriarity said. "He’s someone who tried do best job he could for the city of Bell.”

Bello's interview with the district attorney started the criminal investigation. Bello first complained to prosecutors in 2006 because, he said, a city attorney -- on behalf of Rizzo -- had offered him a bribe to resign from the council, according to Moriarity.

He also went to the FBI with no success, the attorney said.

About 2009, Bello, with the help of Bell police Sgt. James Corcoran, wrote a letter to the DA alleging election fraud and corruption. The DA asked for more information, and, he and Corcoran drafted another letter, Moriarity said.

 Bello went to the May 2010 interview "with no knowledge he or other city council members were doing anything wrong regarding money they were receiving," Moriarity said. "He’s there voluntarily and thinking doing he was his duty to protect the citizens of Bell.”

During the interview, Bello surprised investigators when he told them he was earning $100,000 a year as assistant to the city's food bank coordinator, the same salary he had made as a councilman.

Besides Bello, former council members Teresa Jacobo, Luis Artiga, George Mirabal, Oscar Hernandez and George Cole are on trial for misappropriation of public funds. Rizzo and Angela Spaccia, the assistant city manager, also face corruption charges. Their trial is scheduled for later this year.


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Photo: Former Bell councilman Victor Bello in court last month on opening day of trial. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times