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Ex-Bell council members get more time to mull plea deal

Justice SystemCrime, Law and Justice

Five former council members in scandal-plagued Bell have been given until next week to decide whether to accept a plea bargain that could put them behind bars for as long as four years.

If the onetime council members in the small, working-class city refuse to take the offer, they could spend twice as many years behind bars.

A hearing at which the ex-politicians are expected to decide whether to take the deal or risk going to trial was postponed until April 9.

The ex-council members are accused of drawing extraordinary salaries by serving on boards and commissions that seldom, if ever, met.

By the time they were driven from office in 2010, they were making as much as $100,000 a year for their part-time work.

The case against George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, Victor Bello and George Mirabal was part of a much broader web of corruption in Bell in which the city’s top administrator was accused of staging a relentless raid on the city treasury by paying extreme salaries, loaning out city money and approving contracts without City Council approval.

All five council members were convicted last year of misappropriating public funds, but jurors deadlocked on other charges, leaving the defendants in the position of accepting an offer from the district attorney or risking their fates on a second trial.

The deal, if accepted, stipulates that the former council members will be sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison, though the judge could be more lenient and give them shorter jail terms or even probation.

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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