Bell, Calif.'s Ex-Mayor, 4 Other Officials Guilty In Huge Corruption Case

LOS ANGELES -- Five former elected officials of the tiny California city of Bell were convicted Wednesday of multiple counts of misappropriation of public funds, and a sixth defendant was cleared entirely. Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez (pictured below) and co-defendants Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole and Victor Belo were all convicted of multiple counts and acquitted of others.

Oscar Hernandez convicted The charges against them involved paying themselves inflated salaries of up to $100,000 a year in the city where 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Prosecutors brought an extensive case involving about 100 counts. An audit by the state controller's office found the city had illegally raised property taxes, business license fees and other sources of revenue to pay the salaries. The office ordered the money repaid.

More: Small Town Treasurer Stole More Than $53 Million, Feds Claim

The current jury deliberated since Feb. 28, when one member of an original panel was replaced and the judge told the reconstituted group to start talks anew.

The officials on trial were Hernandez, former Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, and former council members George Mirabal, George Cole, Victor Bello and Luis Artiga. All except Artiga served as mayor at some point.

The trial was the first court proceeding following disclosures of massive corruption in the gritty town. As the population in the Los Angeles suburb has decreased in recent years, the poverty level has increased markedly.

More: Ousted Bell, Calif. Police Chief Earned $457,000 A Year And Still Sues For Severance

A lawyer for Hernandez said during the trial that his client was unschooled, illiterate and not the type of "scholar" who understood the city's finances.

"We elect people who have a good heart. Someone who can listen to your problems and look you in the eye," attorney Stanley Friedman said.

The scandal that rocked Bell raised the curtain on a fiefdom established by powerful former city manager Robert Rizzo. City records revealed that Rizzo had an annual salary and compensation package worth $1.5 million, making him one of the highest paid administrators in the country.

His salary alone was about $800,000 a year, double that of the president of the United States.

To fund his and other officials' salaries, prosecutors say, Rizzo masterminded a scheme to loot the treasury of $5.5 million. He and his assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia, face their own trial later in the year.

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Witnesses at the former council members' trial depicted Rizzo as a micro manager who convinced the city's elected officials that they too deserved huge salaries.

He was said to have manipulated council members into signing major financial documents, particularly Hernandez who could not read what he was signing.

After the scandal was disclosed, thousands of Bell residents protested at City Council meetings and staged a successful recall election to throw out the entire council and elect new leaders.

Jurors heard more than three weeks of testimony and saw numerous documents. But when it came time to deliberate, things did not go well.

A juror who claimed she was being harassed by others on the panel acknowledged she had done research on the Internet about her jury service and discussed it with her daughter. The judge found she had committed misconduct and, after five days of deliberations, the weeping juror was dismissed from the panel.
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Maybe they'll make a plea deal to work for just half of what they were getting.

March 28 2013 at 12:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We do places try to de-throne C(r)ook County in Illinois? It can't be done!!

March 27 2013 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Someone needs to take a hard look at the West Covina city council, probably find something similar

March 27 2013 at 8:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

CORRUPTION AND COVER UP IS ALIVE AND KICKING ALL OVER AMERICA......what a shame that this kind of thing is going on without being found until years later.....

March 27 2013 at 8:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

They must have taken a chapter out of New Jersey's and Chicago's rule books. How did they ever miss the chapter on double and triple dipping?

March 27 2013 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It looks as though a political office salary is only a retainer fee to allow all that can be stolen. Our state has had five sheriffs, several police chiefs,a lt. governor and others removed from office in the last couple of years for violating the law. It does not look good.

March 27 2013 at 6:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Put them in the stocks in the town square

March 27 2013 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Police Chief, $457,000.00 a year in a town of 37,000 people ? How did he get away with it ?

March 27 2013 at 3:55 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

This is overflowing to the white house.

March 27 2013 at 3:42 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

These crooks need to be made to pay back all monies stolen, all excess personal properties sold bank accounts.etc. Hopefully the court will make an example of these men and they will receive harsh jail time.

March 27 2013 at 11:32 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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