Former Bell leaders request more time to consider plea deal

Five former Bell City Council members, seen here with their lawyers, asked for more time Friday to consider whether to accept a deal in which they could get four-year prison sentences in exchange for pleading guilty to corruption charges.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Lawyers for five former Bell City Council members asked for more time Friday to consider whether to accept a deal in which their clients would get no more than four years in prison in exchange for pleading no contest to criminal negligence.

George Cole, George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, Oscar Hernandez and Victor Bello must all agree to the deal, or the offer will be taken off the table, prosecutors said.

The defendants are also required to pay restitution to Bell, but the amount has not been determined.


The former city leaders already face possible eight-year prison terms after they were convicted of misappropriating public funds last year, making the district attorney’s offer attractive.

“In the end, I hope we can resolve this short of a trial,” Mirabal attorney Alex Kessel said.”I think it’s in the best interest for everyone to do so.”

Ron Kaye, attorney for Cole, said his client is ready to accept the deal.

“At this juncture,” Kaye said, “his health is in a very precarious state.”

The judge has indicated that if the former council members take the plea, she would sentence each of them individually — meaning some could receive more leniency.

All five are scheduled to appear in court April 3. If the group decides to plead guilty on that date, they could face anywhere from four years in prison to probation.

Stanley Friedman, Hernandez’s attorney, said a probationary sentence could involve community service, labor and time in county jail.

Bob Mackin, a longtime Bell resident who has followed the scandal, said he would be furious if Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy sentenced any of the defendants to probation.


“We want them to do prison time,” Mackin said.

Last March, jurors convicted the former city leaders on some counts, but couldn’t reach a verdict on others. If the defendants refuse the current offer, they will be ordered to stand trial on the remaining counts — increasing their chances of going to prison if convicted.

All five were arrested in 2010 when a salary scandal embroiled the city in southeast Los Angeles County. The council members were accused of driving up their salaries as high as $100,000 by serving on boards and commissions that rarely, if ever, met.

Robert Rizzo, the city’s former manager, had a total annual compensation of $1.5 million, making him the highest paid municipal leader in California.

Further investigations revealed that Rizzo had loaned out city money, wrote his own contracts and provided false documents about the size of his salary. The city was also steering toward bankruptcy when Rizzo, his assistant and the police chief were forced to resign.

Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 felony corruption charges last year and is set to be sentenced in March. He also pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud charges. He is expected to be sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison.

The city’s former second in command, Angela Spaccia, was convicted late last year on 11 corruption charges and is set to be sentenced Wednesday, Feb. 26. She faces a possible 12-year prison term.