Prosecutors start process to retry five ex-Bell council members

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office announced it will retry the deadlocked counts against five former Bell City Council members, shown here during their corruption trial.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

More than two months after a jury deadlocked on nearly half the counts and handed a mixed verdict to five ex-Bell City Council members, prosecutors announced plans Wednesday to retry the corruption case.

News of the retrial surfaced last week, but prosecutors met Wednesday with L.A. County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy to officially begin proceedings to retry Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal.

The five were found guilty in March on multiple felony counts of misappropriating public funds by overpaying themselves for sitting on city boards and authorities that rarely met. Luis Artiga was the only defendant to win full acquittal; he cannot be retried. Artiga appeared in the courtroom Wednesday “to offer support,” he said.


FULL COVERAGE: Corruption in Bell

The jury of seven women and five men that had shown deep division during its 17 days behind closed doors acquitted the defendants on some charges and failed to come to a decision on others.

Two Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys, Sean Hassett and Max Huntsman, will retry the deadlocked counts in place of Edward Miller, who was promoted to assistant head deputy of the D.A.’s healthcare fraud division.

“The case is in extremely capable hands,” said Miller, who had been the lone prosecutor against six defense attorneys during the trial.

The new trial, which defense attorneys said probably won’t take place until next year, will probably be presided over by Kennedy, who has yet to hand down sentencing on the guilty verdicts and could wait until after the second trial is completed to do so.

Defense attorneys said they hope to represent their clients again but will return for a July 2 hearing to announce if that has changed.


They stressed the financial and emotional stress that a retrial will place on their clients but said there was no plea agreement in the works.

“From the feel of it, the D.A. is looking for state prison time and that’s not something he’s going to do,” said Stanley L. Friedman of his client, former Bell mayor Hernandez.

Shepard Kopp, Jacobo’s attorney, said all the defense attorneys unsuccessfully requested a meeting with Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey shortly after the trial ended.

“We would’ve tried to explain why it makes absolutely no sense for them to retry the remaining counts,” Kopp said. “It seems like a tremendous waste of public resources when the prosecution was able to get some guilty convictions.”

After the month-long trial that began in January, jurors deliberated for nearly as many days as the trial itself.

After delivering their mixed verdict, some jurors said they believed the remaining deadlocked counts could be decided with more direction from the court.


The jury was asked to return for an additional day that became unhinged when one juror asked to reconsider the guilty verdicts already reached and another wrote a note to the judge asking that she “remind the jury to remain respectful and not to make false accusations and insults to one another.”

Kennedy ended up declaring a mistrial on the outstanding counts, saying, “All hell has broken loose.”

Miller said the new trial should not affect the trial scheduled for later this year of Robert Rizzo, the city manager whom Bell council members described as the ringleader of the town’s corruption.

Rizzo, who faces 69 felony counts, has been ordered to appear in court, along with his former assistant Angela Spaccia, on Sept. 9.


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