Bell mayor says death threats keep him from council meetings


Bell’s mayor, whose absence from council meetings has made it difficult for the city to deal with its fiscal crisis, said he has withdrawn from civic duties because of death threats that make him fear for his life.

The absences of Oscar Hernandez and Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo have left the council without a quorum and unable to make budget cuts that Bell’s interim city administrator says are necessary to keep the city from sliding into insolvency.

Jacobo declined to speak with The Times, but Hernandez said his colleague had also skipped meetings because of threats.


“I explain to police, and they don’t want to give me protection,” the mayor said during a break in a preliminary hearing in downtown Los Angeles that will determine whether Hernandez and five other current or former council members will stand trial for misappropriation of public funds.

Hernandez said Bell police dislike him because he supports replacing them with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, which reportedly would save the city about $3.5 million a year.

“I don’t know whether to be afraid of someone with a gun or someone with a gun and a uniform,” said his daughter Lena Hernandez, 34.

Interim City Administrator Pedro Carrillo has estimated that the city could face a deficit of $3.5 million to $4.5 million by the end of the fiscal year. He is prepared to start cutting city expenses if the council can’t muster a quorum.

Police Capt. Steven Finkelstein defended his officers. “My cops are professionals and as a professional police officer, no matter what your opinions and reservations, those are put aside and you do your job,” he said.

In addition to the council members, two former top Bell officials face felony charges in a sweeping corruption case in which prosecutors allege that city leaders used the treasury as if it were their own cash box.


It has become a ritual during council meetings for audience members to lambaste, jeer and taunt council members. Sheriff’s deputies escorted Hernandez into one meeting.

Finkelstein said that police make sure no one comes within 20 feet of council members during meetings and that “the council is never in any physical harm. We would not allow that.”

Security has been a concern in Bell since The Times revealed the enormous salaries of city officials.

The city provided Hernandez and Jacobo with private security guards for about 10 days during one period. Sheriff’s deputies also sat outside the homes of administrators and council members.

Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former assistant city administrator who is now facing criminal charges in the corruption case, was provided a private bodyguard when she was asked to help run neighboring Maywood, Finkelstein said. She also drove a city car equipped with a remote starter because she feared a bomb.

Hernandez’s two daughters complained that police took 25 minutes to show up this week when two men with guns were outside their home.


Finkelstein said officers arrived two minutes after receiving the call and searched the area before contacting those inside the house. He said no report was filed.

Hernandez and his daughters, Lena and Christine Hernandez, also complained about how police handled a video that was shot outside a council meeting last year. The daughters said a man could be heard saying he was going to kill their father.

Finkelstein said the video was sent to the county crime lab, which could find no threat against Hernandez. He said the department forwarded the case to the district attorney’s office, which determined that no crime had been committed.