Five former political leaders in the scandal-plagued city of Bell have agreed to plead no contest to corruption charges and could be sentenced to up to four years in prison for their role in looting the treasury of one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities.
Had the former council members refused to take the offer, they could have been sentenced to twice as many years behind bars.
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 removed from office in 2010, they were making up to $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.
The 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.
Even if they were acquitted in that trial, they still faced eight years from their previous convictions.
During their trial, each insisted that they had been duped by the town’s strong-willed chief executive. One, a former steelworker, even said he was forced to accept the generous paychecks and that his protests over the size of his pay were ignored.