Bell corruption trial: Opening statements to begin Thursday
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Opening statements are scheduled to get underway Thursday in the trial for six former Bell City Council members accused of looting the city’s treasury by drawing hefty salaries for their part-time work.
A jury of eight women and four men were selected Wednesday in the trial for Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal will open Thursday morning. All six face potential prison terms if convicted.
Prosecutors from the district attorney’s office as well as defense attorneys will make opening statements. Bell City Clerk Rebecca Valdez is expected to be the first witness.
The trial is expected to bring new attention to a scandal that former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley famously described as ‘corruption on steroids.’
Bell, just 2½ square miles in southeast Los Angeles County, became the butt of jokes and a rallying cry for reformers.
But there has been significantly less focus on the small city’s slow recovery from the scandal. ‘Everybody suspected that the city of Bell would go under immediately, but we haven’t two years later,’ said Ana Maria Quintana, a councilwoman who won office in the wake of the revelations.
The city’s general fund has been slashed to $12 million from $16 million, largely because a handful of highly paid employees are now gone, and the budget is balanced. Council meetings are streamed online in a city where the workings of government were once opaque. The city has cut fees for trash pickup, building permits and business licenses -- fees that had ballooned under Rizzo.
But it is too soon to tell how well the city will ultimately emerge from the scandal. It faces a tangle of scandal-related lawsuits, with $1.5 million in legal fees a year, and the possibility of fiscal calamity, said City Manager Doug Willmore.
‘If all the litigation stuff were solved today, I’d tell you Bell has a bright future, and we can pay our bills,’ said Willmore, who estimates he spends a third of his time on lawsuits. ‘There are all these things that could happen that could bankrupt the city.’
-- Corina Knoll and Christopher Goffard