Bell trial: After 10 days, jurors say they hope to ‘speed up’
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Locked in their 10th day of deliberations, jurors in the Bell corruption trial listened Thursday morning to a reading of the testimony of a district attorney’s investigator who was called as a witness in the case last month.
Maria Grimaldo testified Feb. 6 that former Councilman Victor Bello had alerted authorities at least three times about misconduct in Bell before he sat down for an interview with district attorney investigators in 2010 and revealed that Bell council members were drawing nearly six-figure salaries.
Jurors sent a note to Judge Kathleen Kennedy on Wednesday afternoon, requesting to hear Grimaldo’s testimony again, specifically the portion in which the investigator was cross-examined by defense attorney Alex Kessel.
The testimony in question concerned the investigator’s request for documents establishing the pay for council members and those serving on boards. They also requested any other testimony that covered the subject.
In a separate note, jurors asked for copies of five documents that pertained to resolutions regarding salaries of the authorities. “We would like six copies of each so we can speed up deliberations,” the note said. Those documents were given to them Wednesday.
Attorneys on Thursday waived their right to have the 21-page testimony read aloud in an open courtroom. Instead, the court reporter read the testimony to jurors in the deliberations room.
“I think it’s very positive,” defense attorney Stanley L. Friedman said about the requests. “It relates to the authority of law issue, whether the people proved the salaries were illegal.”
Kennedy said deliberations would only go until 1 p.m. Thursday, because of a juror’s doctor appointment. If no verdict is reached, the jury will reconvene Friday.
Former Bell city leaders Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal have been on trial since late January and are accused of misappropriating public funds by drawing huge salaries for serving on boards that rarely met.
Grimaldo was the last witness called by the prosecution. During her testimony, a short excerpt of the taped 2010 interview with Bello was played in court.
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 as a councilman. The food bank 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.”
Another investigator on the tape 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 the advantage of Bell becoming a charter city in 2006 was that council members could draw higher salaries. The city manager at the time, Robert Rizzo, had said one of the reasons to become a charter city was so that council members could be paid more than the law allowed, Bello said.
Rizzo and former assistant city administrator Angela Spaccia will face their own criminal trial later this year.
Grimaldo also testified 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 fulfill the request right away, Grimaldo said.
When the D.A. finally received records, they were incomplete, Grimaldo said.
The district attorney’s office, she said, eventually filed a grand jury subpoena to force the city to turn over the documents.
-- Corina Knoll