Bell Officials Plead No Contest To Misappropriation - KMSP-TV

Bell Officials Plead No Contest To Misappropriation Of Public Funds

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Los Angeles, CA -

(FOX 11 / CNS) Five former Bell City Council members pleaded no contest today to two felony counts each of misappropriating public funds through inflated salaries in a deal that will result in sentences ranging from probation to four years behind bars.

Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were each convicted March 20, 2013, of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while former Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.

Jurors deadlocked on a handful of counts against the five, with the prosecution announcing in May that it intended to retry those charges. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy had urged both sides to try to work out a deal, eliminating the need for a retrial and bringing the Bell corruption saga closer to an end.

It will be up to the judge to determine what sentences the five will actually face, with the maximum term being a four-year "lid'' that will include the crimes on which they were convicted at trial.

"I don't imagine any of you are planning on running for public office again,'' the judge said, noting that the five will be precluded from doing so as a result of their pleas.

The five are also expected to be ordered to pay restitution. Anthony Taylor, an attorney for the city of Bell, said the restitution amount could total nearly $1 million in all, noting that restitution has been calculated "to the penny'' for each of the defendants.

"This is another step forward in the process,'' Taylor said. Attorneys for some of the former council members said they were hopeful that their clients would get probation.

Victor Bello's attorney, Leo Moriarty, said outside court his client had already served about six months in county jail before being released on bail. Most of the others were quickly released on bail. "I think he's well-deserving of it,'' Moriarty said of a probationary sentence.

Hernandez's attorney, Stanley Friedman, said his client was "apologetic about what happened.''

But current Bell City Councilwoman Violeta Alvarez, who attended the hearing, said she believes the defendants "have to spend some time in jail.'' She noted that it is "insulting'' for people to "keep calling us corrupt,'' maintaining that the new council is "turning things around.''

Cole, 64, is scheduled to be the first sentenced, with the judge instructing him to return to court June 11. Jacobo, 56, and Hernandez, 66, are due back June 24 and June 26, respectively, while Mirabal, 64, is set to be sentenced July 11 and Bello, 55, set to return to court July 14.

Jurors exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 charges against him. In their trial, the prosecution alleged that the defendants were paid illegal salaries for sitting on four city boards that rarely met, with their salaries reaching $100,000 in a city that was 2 1/2 square miles and where the median household income was $35,000.

Defense attorneys countered that their clients were wrongly accused, arguing that they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries. Former Bell assistant city administrator Angela Spaccia was convicted in December of 11 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. Jurors deadlocked on another count -- misappropriation of
public funds involving an alleged $75,500 loan of taxpayer money in 2003 -- and acquitted her of one count of secretion of a public record involving former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams' employment contract.

Spaccia, 55, is facing up to roughly 17 years in prison, according to prosecutors. She is set to be sentenced Thursday. Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, who had been charged along with Spaccia in a massive public corruption case that generated national headlines, pleaded no contest Oct. 3 to all 69 counts against him less than a week before jury selection was set to begin in his trial with Spaccia. Rizzo, 60, is facing a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 12 years in state prison, and is set to be sentenced April 16.

Rizzo pleaded guilty in January in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to two felony charges -- conspiracy and filing a false federal income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. He faces a maximum eight-year term in the federal case, with his sentence in the Los Angeles Superior Court case expected to be served at the same time as the tax charges.

Federal prosecutors have filed court papers recommending that Rizzo be sentenced to 33 months for the tax charges.

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