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Ex-Bell council member gets 2 years in prison for role in pay scandal

The third of five ex-Bell elected officials gets two years in prison for her role in corruption case

Former Bell Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo was sentenced Friday to two years in state prison and ordered to pay more than $242,000 in restitution for her role in the city's pay scandal.

It is the longest sentence so far among the group of five elected officials convicted in the sweeping public corruption case.

Jacobo, along with most of her former colleagues on the council, was convicted in April of misappropriating public funds by boosting her salary for her part-time work to nearly $100,000 a year by serving on boards and commissions that rarely, if ever, met. 

Before the sentencing on Friday, Jacobo rose from her seat and gave a brief, tearful speech.

“I’d just like to express my apologies and to mention that I have accepted my responsibility and I am very sorry for my negligence,” she said. “I intended to serve with all my heart. And just like that, with all my heart I apologize to the city of Bell.”

Deputy Dist. Atty Sean Hassett, however, told the court that Jacobo’s apology was “way too late.”

“It was a lot more than negligence -- that was an active taking,” he said. “They just took Bell’s money whenever they wanted.”

During her trial, Jacobo portrayed herself as a hard-working municipal worker who put in long hours but never questioned the town’s domineering city manager, Robert Rizzo, who was pulling in $1.5 million annually in total compensation.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said Jacobo, who had a real estate license, should have known better than the others on the council who were named in the sweeping corruption case.

Prosecutors had recommended that Jacobo get four years in state prison.

Bell was left on the brink of bankruptcy largely because of the large salary payouts.

The scandal, which broke nearly four years ago, had sweeping implications for governments across California, prompting legislation that requires salaries to be made public and sparking audits of city spending elsewhere.

In April, Jacobo and former ex-council members Oscar Hernandez, George Cole, Victor Bello and George Mirabal agreed to a deal offered by Los Angeles County prosecutors that included pleading no contest to two counts of misappropriating public funds.

Mirabal, a former funeral director, was sentenced earlier this year to one year in jail, though his attorney predicted he’ll likely serve only days. Cole, a well-known political figure in southeast Los Angeles County, was given home confinement and probation.

So far, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy has reserved her harshest punishments for the architects of the corruption in Bell – Rizzo and his second-in-command, Angela Spaccia. Both were given lengthy prison terms.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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