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D.A. offers ex-Bell council members 4 years maximum for guilty pleas

 

Prosecutors have offered five former Bell City Council members a sentencing deal if they agree to plead guilty to corruption charges, according to a source familiar with the case.

In exchange for their guilty pleas -- which would avoid a second trial -- prosecutors would agree to a maximum prison sentence of four years, sources said.

With time off for good behavior, four years behind bars really means two years. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy could also sentence the defendants to a sentence as lenient as probation.

FULL COVERAGE: Crisis in Bell

George Cole, George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, Oscar Hernandez and Victor Bello were convicted last year of several counts of misappropriation of public funds for being paid for sitting on city boards that seldom, if ever, met. Sitting on the boards increased their salaries to as much as $100,000 a year, unheard of pay for council members in a city of about 40,000 people.

Former councilman Luis Artiga was acquitted of all charges.

Based on their convictions, Kennedy could sentence each of the other five council members to eight years in prison -- or more if they are convicted of additional charges in a second trial.

Kennedy has encouraged both sides to work out a deal.

In the past, the former council members have insisted they wouldn’t take any deal that included time behind bars. In 2011 several defendants rejected plea deals that would have sent them to prison for two years.

Under terms of the current deal, all defendants must agree or it's withdrawn, sources said.

Attorneys for the defendants would not discuss details of the deal but said their clients would gather to discuss it.

Attorneys for Bello, Jacobo and Hernandez met Monday afternoon with Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett in Kennedy’s chambers, where the prosecutor made the offer. Hassett previously laid out the deal to lawyers for Cole and Mirabal.

The defendants would still be required to pay restitution to Bell, but the amount has not yet been determined.

The defendants are due in court on Feb. 21, at which point the two sides may announce a deal or Kennedy could set a trial date.

Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former assistant city manager who was convicted of 11 felonies last year, is scheduled to be sentenced five days later. The district attorney has recommended she be sentenced to 12 years and eight months in prison.

Robert Rizzo, the city’s former chief administrative officer, is scheduled for sentencing on federal tax fraud charges March 10. He pleaded no contest to 69 felonies related to Bell and is set for sentencing March 12 on those charges. The judge has said she expects to sentence him to 10-12 years in prison.

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

Twitter: @gottliebjeff

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