Bell City corruption case continues at Los Angeles County Superior Court

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The preliminary hearing in the Bell City corruption case resumed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Some current and former officials are accused of stealing money and creating fake government agencies to collect salaries for doing nothing.

Former City Manager Robert Rizzo will stand trial separately, along with former Assistant Manager Angela Spaccia. The accused are being referred to as the Bell Eight. The only councilmember not charged with a crime testified Tuesday against his former colleagues.

Bell City Councilman Lorenzo Velez took the stand Tuesday in what is being called the largest case of public corruption in California. Velez testified that Rizzo ran the city and required authorization for nearly everything the council did. In his testimony, Velez said he had no idea what his colleagues were earning until he read about it in the Los Angeles Times. The article showed the accused council members were making nearly $100,000 a year for part-time work.

Velez testified that he only made about $600 a month. He also said they created commissions and collected money for serving on them despite not actually doing any work. Prosecutor Edward Miller referred to Bell’s Solid Waste authority as a “solid waste of money.” The prosecution asked Velez about a closed-door session where he questioned the other council members about their salaries. Judge Henry J. Hall stopped that line saying, “I don’t want to unlock any doors that should not be unlocked.”

The defense contends that Velez knew much more than he admits and will attempt to undermine his testimony on Thursday. All defendants are out on bail except for Victor Bello who sat in the courtroom handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit. The defendants turned down a plea bargain Monday that would have put them in prison for two years along with paying restitution.

Testimony in the preliminary hearing is expected to last through Thursday. Judge Hall will then decide if there is enough evidence to try the six defendants.

Bell police officers release new documents in the corruption scandal

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New documents released today by the Bell Police Officers Association show former City Manager Robert Rizzo asked for special treatment of certain members of the police department. The association called for the immediate suspension of Lt. Ty Henshaw and for an investigation into former Bell Police Chief Randy Aams.

One Bell police officer accused Rizzo and other city officials of misappropriating public funds.

“It is the opinion of the Bell Police Officers Association that Henshaw’s main job on the Rizzo regime was to intimidate so-called trouble maker officers,” the officer said. “We believed that in exchange, Ty Henshaw received special treatment, including promotion, salary and benefit hikes and complete access to the offices of Robert Rizzo, which violated the normal chain of command in a police department.”

Rizzo asked in an e-mail to increase Henshaw’s salary to $10,500 a month starting in July 2009. Bell Police Officer Kurt Owens says everyone else has to pay their share.

“There is no other officer, and to my knowledge no other employee, where the city pays 100 percent of his deferred cost,” Owens said. “Why was this done? There’s gotta be a reason for it.”

The Bell police department called for an investigation of the former police chief and his relationship with Rizzo. But nobody knows where Adams actually is.

“His personal belongings and office equipment, furniture are still here in the station,” one officer said. “We have no accounting for his gun and his badge.”

In another memo, Rizzo asked Lourdes Garcia, Bell’s director of administrative services, to give 10 to 15 percent pay raises to members of the police department. Rizzo faces 55 counts of various corruption charges, along with former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and five council members.