Prosecutors opt to retry five ex-Bell City Council members

Pastor and former Bell councilman Luis Artiga looks over a diary he kept during the corruption trial in his office at Bell Community Church.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
<i>This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.</i>

Former Bell City Councilman Luis Artiga is the only former official who will not be retried for corruption.

Artiga, a pastor in Bell, was the only council member fully acquitted by a jury in March on charges of misappropriating public funds and overpaying himself for sitting on boards that rarely met.

“Yes, I do regret being on the council,” Artiga said in March after the verdict. “I went there to serve the community of Bell.”


FULL COVERAGE: Corruption in Bell

Prosecutors said they will not appeal the jury’s decision.

Artiga’s attorney, George Mgdesyan, said Artiga’s defense was different from that of his former colleagues because he joined the council after all the inappropriate actions were taken.

“My client is an innocent man and the people from the state of California have spoken,” Mgdesyan said.

Artiga’s co-defendants during that March trial, however, will be retried.

D.A.’s spokeswoman Jean Guccione said Tuesday that prosecutors want a retrial after jurors issued a mixed verdict and the judge declared a mistrial on some counts.

Jurors delivered a mixed verdict for Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, finding them guilty on multiple felony counts and acquitting them on other charges.


Artiga was the only defendant to win full acquittal.

The verdicts were announced after 17 days behind closed doors. Jurors, however, were asked to return for an additional day to deliberate on remaining counts that some believed could be decided after more direction from the court.

But that day came to a chaotic end, with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy declaring a mistrial on the outstanding counts after one juror asked to reconsider the guilty verdicts already reached and another passed a note urging the judge to “remind the jury to remain respectful and not to make false accusations and insults to one another.”

Kennedy drew the case to a close March 21, saying: “All hell has broken loose.”

The panel of seven women and five men had shown signs of discord throughout the trial, and the dissension worsened during the last few days, one juror said.

“It was very, very tense, and I believe that if we hadn’t ended when we did, it probably could have been a lot worse,” said the juror, who asked to remain anonymous and said she was in favor of guilt. “I believe that [the defendants] were good people, but that wasn’t what we were there to decide. I was doing my best to base everything on the evidence and the facts of the case.”

The case will be retried by Deputy Dist. Attys. Sean Hassett and Max Huntsman, said Hernandez’s attorney, Stanley Friedman. Edward Miller, the prosecutor who faced six attorneys during the earlier monthlong trial, has been transferred to the Healthcare Fraud Division.

Before and during the trial, Robert Rizzo, who for 17 years served as Bell’s chief administrative officer, was painted as the mastermind of the outsized salaries. He still faces trial on 69 felony counts.


Rizzo is scheduled to go on trial later this year with Angela Spaccia, his former assistant who faces 13 felony counts. She is employing a strategy similar to the council members’: Blame Rizzo.

[For the record, 8 a.m. May 22, 2013: An earlier version of this post and its headline incorrectly stated that prosecutors had decided not to re-try ex-Bell Councilman Luis Artiga. Artiga was acquitted of all charges and cannot be retried.]


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