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Ex-Bell council members balk at deal, hearing delayed

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemBell City Council

Lawyers for five former Bell City Council members asked for more time Friday to consider whether to accept a deal in which their clients would get maximum four-year prison sentences in exchange for pleading guilty to corruption charges.

All five must accept the district attorney's offer or it will be taken off the table. It appeared Friday that one or more of the former city leaders was balking at the deal.

The hearing was delayed until April 3.

Last year, all five were convicted on charges that they inflated their paychecks, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on nearly half of the counts. The former council members were accused of misappropriating public funds by drawing enormous paychecks for serving on boards and commissions that rarely, if ever, met.

If George Cole, George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, Oscar Hernandez and Victor Bello refuse to take the district attorney’s offer, they would likely be ordered to stand trial again on the remaining charges – and face a judge who has indicated she is weary of the long-running corruption case.

In court on Friday, only Cole indicated he was willing to take the deal.

The salary scandal in the southeast Los Angeles County city broke in 2010 when the extreme salaries of the city officials were exposed.

That year, the part-time council members were making nearly $100,000 and the city's administrator, Robert Rizzo, had a total compensation of $1.5 million, making him the highest paid municipal leader in California and likely the nation.

Subsequent investigations revealed that Rizzo had loaned out city money, wrote his own contracts and provided false documents about the size of his salary. The city was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy when Rizzo, his assistant and the police chief were forced to resign.

Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 felony corruption charges last year and is set to be sentenced in March. He also pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud charges. The judge has said she probably will sentence him to 10 to 12 years in prison.

The city's former second in command, Angela Spaccia, was convicted late last year on 11 corruption charges and is set to be sentenced Feb. 26. The prosecutor has recommended a sentence of more than 12 years. She is the only former Bell official already behind bars.

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Ruben.vives@latimes.com

Richard.winton@latimes.com

 

 

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