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Former Bell mayor gets one year in county jail for salary scandal

Former Bell mayor gets a year in jail for role in corruption case that left city all but broke

The former mayor of Bell was sentenced Thursday to one year in county jail for his role in a corruption case in which city leaders were accused of plundering the small town’s treasury and lavishing themselves with enormous salaries.

Oscar Hernandez, a small-town grocery store owner with a limited education, becomes the fourth ex-council member in the southeast Los Angeles County city to be sentenced in the 2010 salary scandal and the second to draw jail time as his punishment.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy also ordered Hernandez to serve five years'  probation, put in 1,000 hours of community service and pay the city $241,000 in restitution.

Hernandez was arrested after police knocked down his front door with a battering ram and booked him along with other council members and city administrators in a case the district attorney described as “corruption on steroids.”

Hernandez and four former council colleagues were convicted last year for misappropriation of public funds, a crime that had its roots in the enormous salaries council members were drawing for serving on boards and commissions that rarely, if ever, met.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett had asked the court to send Hernandez to prison for four years and order him to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars in restitution.

Three other former council members have already been sentenced, drawing both light and tough punishments. Former Councilman George Cole, an ex-steelworker who’d been politically active in southeast Los Angeles for decades, was given home confinement. Teresa Jacobo, a real estate agent, was given two years in prison.

Hernandez’s attorney argued that his client deserved leniency because he quickly cooperated with authorities after his arrest and was remorseful.

The former mayor, defense lawyer Stanley Friedman said, is a man “embarrassed to the core and disappointed in himself.”

During his trial, Hernandez was described as a simple man with little formal education, someone who struggled with written English and needed the help of colleagues to understand basic city documents.

But Hassett, in a sentencing memo to the court, said Hernandez was a corrupt politician who was willing to accept a huge paycheck, even as city employees were losing their jobs.

“Instead of serving the public, he abused their trust, stole their money and left the city deeply in debt,” Hassett wrote.

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