Bell Councilman Testifies at Preliminary

The only Bell council member who isn't facing charges takes the stand in a preliminary hearing

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011  |  Updated 2:59 PM PDT
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It seems every time we see Lorenzo Velez, he's seated alone in front of a large group of people who want to ask him a lot of questions about his co-workers.

There were the Bell City Council meetings at which Velez was the lone attendee (see above). That happens when you're the only council member who isn't facing criminal charges.

Then there was Tuesday's appearance at a downtown LA courthouse. Velez took the stand to provide testimony during the second day of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to have the mayor of Bell and five other past and present members of the City Council stand trial on dozens of fraud charges.

As usual, Velez faced tough questions. Instead of angry residents, he faced attorneys Tuesday.

Velez told the court that any issue to come before the Bell City Council had to first be approved by former City Manager Robert Rizzo.

"He wanted to authorize everything that needed to be done,'' Velez said.

Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down last July after the salary scandal broke.  The City Council members were earning almost $100,000 a year (except Velez).

Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller, in summing up the 20 charges facing the three current and three former members of the Bell City Council, told of city commissions that either  never met or met only a few times, but resulted in huge salaries for council  members.

Velez told the court he does not recall participating in any meetings of four committees for which the other council members collected tens of thousands of dollars. Velez said he couldn't recall any council member doing any work for any of them or whether any of them ever actually held a meeting.
       
The judge will first hear the case against Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 63;  Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, 53; Councilman George Mirabal, 61, and former  councilmen Luis Artiga, 49; George Cole, 61; and Victor Bello, 52. After finishing the current preliminary hearing for the six defendants,  the judge is expected to hear evidence next week against Rizzo, 57; former Assistant  City Manager Angela Spaccia, 52; and additional charges against  Hernandez and Artiga.

Ron Kaye, Cole's attorney, tried Tuesday to get Velez admit that he was  also paid for his role in two of the allegedly phantom city agencies.

Velez, however, denied the charge, telling the judge that "I really  didn't (know) that I was participating in these two committees" since the  meetings supposedly took place during city council meetings.

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