LocalL.A. Now

Bell corruption: Former councilman gets one year in jail

Jails and PrisonsJustice System
First of five former Bell council members convicted of corruption gets a year in jail

Former Bell Councilman George Mirabal was sentenced Friday to one year in Los Angeles County jail and ordered to serve five years of probation. Mirabal is the first elected leader in the working class city to be punished for the widespread corruption in the small town.

The former city leader was also ordered to pay $242,000 in restitution to Bell. He is to surrender to authorities July 25 to begin his time behind bars.

Mirabal is the first of the five former Bell council members to be sentenced. The others will be sentenced over the next three weeks and could receive different sentences.

Prosecutor Sean Hassett asked the judge to sentence Mirabal to four years in state prison and to order him to pay $242,294.48 in restitution. Mirabal’s attorney, Alex Kessel, said his client should receive a suspended prison sentence and five years of probation.

A jury more than a year ago deliberated 17 days before convicting Mirabal, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo, Oscar Hernandez and Victor Bello of misappropriating public funds. Former Councilman Luis Artiga was acquitted.

In a deal with the district attorney that limited their sentences to a maximum of four years in prison, the former council members pleaded no contest to two other counts.

The council members had boosted their salaries to as high as $100,000 a year by serving on city boards that seldom, if ever, met.

Hassett wrote a scathing sentencing memo, saying that for seven years, "all of Bell’s public officials conspired together to steal from the people of Bell, all the while driving the city to the edge of bankruptcy.”

Robert Rizzo, Bell’s former chief administrative officer -- whose total compensation was nearly $1.5 million a year for heading one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County -- pleaded no contest to 69 counts of corruption. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $9 million in restitution. He also was sentenced to served 33 months for federal tax fraud, which he was allowed to serve concurrently.

Angela Spaccia, Rizzo’s second-in-command, was sentenced to 11 years and eight months in prison and ordered to pay similar restitution.

Both are now serving their prison terms.

Mirabal, a funeral director in the small southeast Los Angeles County city, had first served as a councilman in 1986 and was city clerk for a year. When he returned to the council in 1993, Hassett wrote, panel members were paid $5,208 a year and Mirabal voted for several pay raises.

“Defendant Mirabal committed these crimes because he is corrupt, avaricious and lacks a moral compass,” Hassett wrote. “These crimes were premeditated and carefully orchestrated.”

He added that the former councilman was supposed to look out for the best interests of Bell’s citizens, but instead left the city deeply in debt, "all to service his own greedy self-interest." 

The prosecutor also said that because of Bell’s retirement system, which gave about 40 employees perhaps the highest pensions of any non-public safety officials in the state, council members would have been receiving pensions of $100,000 a year.

“Mirabal and his co-defendants’ sole aim was to make sure that the people of Bell would have to pay to support them for the rest of their lives,” Hassett wrote.

In a long letter to the court, Mirabal emphasized his long service in community groups and government and blamed his reliance on Rizzo and then-city attorney Ed Lee.

“I never dreamed that any one person could create such havoc as Rizzo did but I was wrong,” Mirabal wrote. “In another time, another ethic, I would have fallen on my sword; my disappointment was that all encompassing. “

Follow Gottlieb on Twitter @GottliebJeff.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Jails and PrisonsJustice System
Comments
Loading