The final defendant in the Bell corruption case was sentenced Friday to a year in Los Angeles County jail, bringing to an end a criminal case that became a national symbol of municipal greed.
Victor Bello, a onetime phone jack installer who earned nearly $100,000 a year for his part-time duties as a councilman in one of the county’s poorest cities, was ordered to serve five years’ probation, put in 500 hours of community service and pay $177,000 in restitution.
He is the last of the seven city officials to be punished for lavishing themselves with huge salaries and generous benefits while the city edged toward insolvency.
His punishment was in line with the sentences handed down to his former council colleagues but far less than the four-year prison term prosecutors had requested.
Bello’s case was unique among the former council members because he alone had approached district attorney’s investigators about financial irregularities in the small city months before The Times exposed the size of the paychecks the town’s leaders were drawing.
Bello had written a letter on May 6, 2009, to the Los Angeles County district attorney with allegations of misconduct in Bell but was not interviewed until 10 1/2 months later.
During a taped interview with investigators, a portion of which was played in court, Bello rambled about his jobs as a home inspector and phone jack installer and how he wanted to retire and collect on his $3,900 monthly city pension.
“Your monthly salary as a council member is how much a month?” investigator Mike Holguin asks. “You said $3,900?”
“No, no, no, no,” Bello replies, according to the transcript. “It’s about $100,000.”
“A $100,000 a year?” another investigator asks.
“That’s as a council member for, uh, for Bell?” Holguin adds.
Investigators testified that Bello, who stood to collect a pension for his council service, 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 Times in June 2010 and council members, along with two top administrators, were arrested later that year. Though delayed, Bello’s interview set off a criminal investigation.
In the interview with the district attorney’s investigators, Bello said that he had resigned from the council and was given a job at the city food bank for the same salary he earned on the council.
Aside from one former council member who was sentenced to two years in prison and another who was given home confinement, the others all received one-year jail terms.
The city’s top leaders, Robert Rizzo and Angela Spaccia, were hit with 12-year prison terms.