California

Former Bell Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo gets two-year prison sentence

Former Bell Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo gets two-year prison sentence
Former Bell City Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo listens while her attorney, Leo Moriarty, speaks on her behalf prior to her sentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Last year, Teresa Jacobo took the witness stand and defended herself as a committed city leader who took calls from constituents at all hours and was a tireless advocate for the people of Bell.

“I thought I was doing a very good job to be able to earn that, yes,” Jacobo testified about her near-$100,000 salary in the trial that would end with her and four other former council members convicted of misappropriating public funds.

On Friday — moments before being denied probation and sentenced to two years in state prison — Jacobo stood to make her first public admission of guilt.

“I’d just like to express my apologies and to mention that I have accepted my responsibility and I am very sorry for my negligence,” the 61-year-old said in a small, trembling voice. “I intended to serve with all my heart. And just like that, with all my heart, I apologize to the city of Bell.”

Judge Kathleen Kennedy said the acknowledgment felt insincere and recalled that Jacobo displayed a “defiant attitude” throughout court proceedings.

“I think that she’s sorry she now has to pay the consequences,” the judge said.

The third of five former Bell council members to be sentenced by Kennedy, Jacobo received the harshest punishment yet. The judge reasoned that the former real estate agent once held a sophisticated job and should have known better.

The reaction from more than a dozen friends and family members in the courtroom was dramatic. Several wept loudly. One woman shouted expletives at the judge, prompting sheriff’s deputies to respond.

“You’re dead,” someone said to an attorney for Bell.

Jacobo sat in her chair stunned, one hand over her mouth, tears spilling from her eyes.

Afterward, Jacobo’s husband denied an interview request. “Too hard for me,” he said, shaking his head.

Jacobo’s attorney said his client was not an evil person and argued the corruption case ultimately benefited Bell. Leo Moriarty pointed out to Kennedy that Bell was currently in good financial shape, there was a heightened awareness about transparency across the state, and a chord of civic responsibility had been struck within the city.

“Sometimes there are good consequences from bad actions,” Moriarty said. He would not comment outside the courtroom.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett had requested a four-year sentence, but said he was pleased Jacobo received prison time.

“Jacobo abused the trust of the people of Bell, and left the City deeply in debt, all to serve her own greedy self-interest,” the prosecutor had written in his sentencing memo.

Appointed to the council in 2000, Jacobo was paid $434 a month for the part-time position and kept her job in real estate. But her newfound role, she said, often proved to be round-the-clock work. Volunteering at the local food bank, organizing breast cancer awareness marches, fielding calls from residents on her home and cell phones — Jacobo portrayed herself as a devoted public servant.

“I was working very hard to improve the lives of the citizens of Bell,” the mother of four testified during the criminal trial. “I was bringing in programs and working with them to build leadership and good families, strong families.”

Jacobo testified it was then-city manager Robert Rizzo — sentenced in April to 12 years in prison — who informed her she would be getting a raise and working full-time for the city. She also said Rizzo encouraged the council to vote itself a 12% annual pay increase in 2008 for sitting on city boards that prosecutors said rarely, if ever, met.

Jacobo, who has credit for two days served, was given 30 days to get her affairs in order. She must also pay more than $242,000 in restitution to Bell.

She, along with Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez and George Mirabal, pleaded no contest in April to the remaining charges that left jurors deadlocked more than a year ago.

corina.knoll@latimes.com

Twitter: @corinaknoll