LIVE VERDICTS: Bell council members guilty of corruption
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Here is live coverage of the Bell corruption trial verdicts. The Times will update the verdicts as they are read:
Oscar Hernandez, Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were arrested in September 2010 in a far-ranging municipal corruption case in which prosecutors alleged that money from the city’s modest general fund flowed freely to top officials.
12:35 p.m.: At a news conference after his acquittal, Artiga said, ‘First and foremost, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for setting me free of these false accusations. I had said from the beginning that the truth will set me free and we know that Jesus said, ‘I am the Truth and the Life.’'
Artiga thanked his family and church for standing by him despite ‘adverse’ conditions.
12:28 p.m.: Artiga, the only of the six defendants who was acquitted on all charges, was released by the judge.
‘Mr. Artiga has been exonerated on all charges,’ Kennedy said. ‘Good health to you.’
12:25 p.m.: The jury told the judge that it was 9-3 on the remaining counts, but did not indicate whether they were leaning toward guilty or not guilty.
Several jurors said they did not believe there was anything else that could be done to help them reach a verdict. But four jurors said they could use additional information about state laws.
‘As much as I hate to do this, I think the court needs to inquire further,’ Judge Kathleen Kennedy said. ‘I know you thought this was going to be the end and I was going to be releasing you.’
Kennedy ordered the jury to take a lunch break. They will return at 2 p.m.
12:20 p.m.: ‘I feel there’s some justice,’ said Alfred Areyan, a Bell resident in the courtroom.
12:15 p.m.: The jury said it was unable to reach a verdict on multiple counts. The judge is questioning the jurors to determine how many verdict votes they took and whether there was any change in the vote count.
12:10 p.m.: Luis Artiga was acquitted on all counts. He faced 12 counts of misappropriation of public funds related to payment for services on several boards between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 26, 2010.
Artiga, a pastor in Bell, was appointed to the City Council long after salaries for council members had been boosted, a point his attorney underscored in closing arguments.
The special allegations that he took property exceeding $65,000 and $100,000 were also found to be not true.
He wiped away tears as the court clerk read the verdicts.
12:05 p.m.: The verdict was mixed for Victor Bello.
He was found guilty of four counts of misappropriation of funds relating to the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2009.
He was found not guilty of four counts of misappropriation of funds relating to payment for services as a member of the Public Finance Authority during the same time period.
12:00 p.m.: The verdict was mixed for George Cole.
He was found guilty of two counts of misappropriation of funds relating to the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2007.
He was found not guilty of two counts of misappropriation of funds relating to payment for services as a member of the Public Finance Authority during the same time period.
11:55 a.m.: The verdict was mixed for George Mirabal.
The jury determined that Mirabal was guilty of five counts of misappropriation of funds relating to the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority between Jan. 1, 2006, and July 26, 2010.
He was found not guilty of five counts related to misappropriation of funds relating to payment for services as a member of the Public Finance Authority during the same period.
11:50: a.m. The verdict was mixed for Teresa Jacobo.
The jury determined that Jacobo was guilty of five counts of misappropriation of funds relating to the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority between Jan. 1, 2006, and July 26, 2010.
She was found not guilty of five counts related to misappropriation of funds relating to payment for services as a member of the Public Finance Authority during the same period.
11:40 a.m.: There was a mixed verdict for Oscar Hernandez. He was found guilty of a total of five counts of misappropriating public funds related to the Solid Waste Authority and not guilty on the five counts of misappropriation related to the Public Finance Authority.
11:35 a.m.: The judge is reviewing the verdict forms. Judge Kathleen Kennedy has asked the audience not to audibly respond to the verdicts.
11:30 a.m.: All defense attorneys have arrived at court and the verdicts are expected to be read soon.
11:15 a.m.: Defense attorney Ronald Kaye, who represents Cole, says he is ‘confident and nervous.’
Reporter Christine Mai-Duc is in Bell, where media have also gathered at City Hall. City officials there are expected to hold a news conference after the verdicts are read.
11:13 a.m.: A district attorney’s office spokeswoman said the defendants are facing a range of 12 to 25 years if convicted on all counts.
11:10 a.m.: Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey has announced that she will not be providing a statement after the verdict.
11:05 a.m.: Times reporter Corina Knoll is in the courtroom and reports that Ariga, a pastor, gestured to the sky as he awaits the verdict.
Family members, defendants and media are piled into the courtroom. Knoll said the room was loud, and the crowd was asked to quiet down by a bailiff. Defense attorneys have not arrived yet.
10:50 a.m.: The verdict is expected to be read about 10:50 a.m., but the jury has not yet entered the courtroom. We will continue to bring you live updates.
The three defendants who testified in the four-week trial painted a picture of a city as a place led by a controlling, manipulative administrator who handed out enormous salaries, lent city money and padded future pensions. Robert Rizzo, the former administrator, and ex-assistant city manager Angela Spaccia are awaiting trial. The four-week trial of the former council members turned on extremes.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller said the council members were little more than common thieves who were consumed with fattening their paychecks at the expense of the city’s largely immigrant, working-poor residents.
Miller said the accused represented the “one-percenters’ of Bell who had “apparently forgotten who they are and where they live.’
Defense attorneys said the former city leaders -- one a pastor, another a mom-and-pop grocery store owner, another a funeral director -- were dedicated public servants who put in long hours and tirelessly responded to the needs of their constituents.
Jacobo testified that Rizzo informed her she could quit her job as a real estate agent and receive a full-time salary as a council member. She said she asked City Atty. Edward Lee if that was possible and he nodded his head.
‘I thought I was doing a very good job to be able to earn that, yes,’ Jacobo said.
Cole said Rizzo was so intimidating that the former councilman voted for a 12% annual pay raise out of fear the city programs he established would be gutted by Rizzo in retaliation if he opposed the pay hikes.
The defense argued that the prosecution failed to prove criminal negligence -- that their clients knew what they were doing was wrong or that a reasonable person would know it was wrong.
The attorney for Hernandez, the city’s mayor at the time of the arrests, said his client had only a grade-school education, was known more for his heart than his intellect, and was, perhaps, not overly “scholarly.”
Prosecutors argued that the former council members pushed up their salaries by serving on city boards that rarely met and, in one case, existed only as a means for paying them even more money.
Jurors were also left to deal with the question of whether council members were protected by a City Charter that was approved in a special election that drew fewer than 400 voters.
Defense attorneys said the charter allowed council members to be paid for serving on the authorities and boards.
But the prosecution argued that the charter -- a quasi-constitution for a city -- set salaries at what councils in similar-sized cities were receiving under state law: $8,076 a year. Because council members automatically serve on boards and commissions, the district attorney said the total compensation for all of each council member’s work was included in that figure.
Reaction from Bell: ‘They’ve been guilty since 2 1/2 years ago’ -- Corina Knoll and Ruben Vives