LOCAL L.A. Now

Former Bell leaders offered deal in exchange for guilty pleas

Five former Bell council members accused of looting the small city are scheduled to be in court Friday to consider an offer of a maximum four-year prison term in exchange for their guilty pleas.

The former leaders already face possible eight-year prison terms after being convicted on related corruption charges last year, making the four-year offer attractive.

Friday’s court hearing could bring the city’s corruption saga to an end if the council members plead guilty.

Last year, the five council members were convicted on charges that they inflated their paychecks but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on nearly half the counts.

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

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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