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Bell corruption trial: Mistrial declared on remaining 42 counts

March 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Just a day after convictions came down in the Bell corruption trial, a mistrial was declared on the remaining 42 counts.

Six former officials from Bell had faced 120 felony corruption charges collectively.

"It's been an ordeal. I'm hoping that people understand that there was an immense amount of work done by the council in the city of Bell, and that we were never part-time employees of the city. We considered ourselves full-time employees of the city," said former Councilman George Mirabal.

On Wednesday, the jury handed down some verdicts, convicting former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and four former council members on multiple counts of misappropriation of public funds from the blue-collar city.

Hernandez, Mirabal and former council member Teresa Jacobo were each convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Former Councilman George Cole was found guilty of two counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of two others. Former Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.

Former Councilman Luis Artiga was acquitted on all counts.

But the trial was not over yet. The jurors were deadlocked over a series of other charges, and Thursday, they submitted a flurry of notes asking for clarification on the law. One juror submitted a note to the judge expressing doubt about the guilty and not-guilty convictions.

The five convicted defendants will return to court for sentencing on April 23.

An audit by the California State Controller's Office previously found that the city had illegally raised property taxes, business license fees and other sources of revenue to pay the salaries of Bell officials.

Meantime, the current mayor of Bell, who was elected in a recall election shortly after the corruption case began, says it's now time for the city to move forward.

"I think the legacy that was left by the previous administration is a long-term healing process, but I think this is part of the closure that we can endure now," said Mayor Ali Saleh.

Artiga was the only defendant who was completely exonerated. He was acquitted of all 12 counts against him. Artiga was not on the Bell City Council when it voted to raise the members' salaries for their work on various city boards.

"I was hoping to God and I never lost faith through that moment," Artiga said outside the courtroom. "Although my stomach, you know, I felt (my) hands cold, but I just knew it."

A separate trial is planned for the alleged ringleader, former City Manager Robert Rizzo, and his assistant, Angela Spaccia.

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. Rizzo's salary alone was about $800,000 per year.

Throughout the corruption trial, the defendants, their lawyers and even some prosecution witnesses pointed the blame at Rizzo, saying he was the true mastermind behind the scheme that bilked Bell out of $5.5 million.

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