Bell trial: Jurors begin first full day of deliberations
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Jurors began their first full day of deliberations Monday in the corruption case against six former Bell City Council members.
The case against Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo, Oscar Hernandez and George Mirabal went to the jury shortly before noon Friday after four weeks of testimony.
Jurors are deciding whether it was legal for the defendants to receive salaries as high as $100,000 annually, boosted by pay for serving on city boards that did little, if any, work.
The case is the first chapter in a broader alleged municipal corruption case in which authorities contend the city’s then-chief executive -- Robert Rizzo -- dipped into the city treasury by paying huge salaries, loaning city money and padding retirement accounts, at a time when the city’s finances were starting to crumble.
The prosecution argued that the council members were nothing more than white-collar criminals, more interesting in lining their pockets than helping the city.
Deputy Dist. Atty Edward Miller argued that according to the city charter, council members should have received a maximum of $8,076 a year, and that serving on the Surplus Property Authority and other boards was part of their duties.
Defense attorneys countered that their clients worked tirelessly for Bell and that the few minutes they spent at the board meetings did not reflect their efforts outside City Hall helping residents of one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County.
They said their salaries were approved in open meetings -- usually attended by few people -- and that neither the city attorney nor the independent auditors flagged them as being a problem. They blamed Rizzo, whom they characterized as a scheming, vindictive administrator who all but forced them to take the high salaries, for the town’s problems.
They told jurors that the district attorney had failed to prove criminal negligence, or that the council members knew what they were doing was wrong or that a reasonable person should have known. The trial of Rizzo and Angela Spaccia, the assistant city administrative officer, is expected later this year.
-- Jeff Gottlieb