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Bell corruption case: Ex-council members accept plea deal

The five ex-Bell City Council members charged in the city's corruption scandal agreed to accept a plea deal Wednesday.
April 9, 2014 5:22:49 AM PDT
The five ex-Bell City Council members charged in the city's corruption scandal agreed to accept a plea deal Wednesday. Under the agreement with prosecutors, the defendants will face a maximum of four years in prison.

Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were each convicted on March 20, 2013, of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five other charges.

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. The plea deals reached Wednesday resolve those remaining counts, eliminating the need for another trial.

The deal was offered as a package deal, all the defendants had to accept it. Each defendant will now be sentenced separately at a later date, but the upside for the defendants is that the judge has the discretion to give them as little as probation.

The defense lawyers say the judge should be lenient because Bell's own contracted attorneys at the time misguided the council.

"[Victor Bello] had no knowledge at all that the pay they were receiving as councilmembers could be deemed somehow improper or illegal at the time," said Bello's attorney, Leo Moriarty.

Authorities allege Robert Rizzo, Bell's former city manager, came up with the plan to siphon money from the city and gave himself and City Council members hefty salaries.

Wednesday's development follows a no contest plea by Rizzo on 69 corruption charges related to his actions as Bell city administrator. Prosecutors allege that over the course of four years, Rizzo made about $570,000 in illegal deductions.

By the time they were fired in 2010, Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, were collecting salaries higher than that of the president of the United States.

Spaccia had denied culpability, went to trial, and was convicted of 11 out of 13 felonies, including conspiracy, misappropriating public funds, falsification of government records and conflict of interest. She is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday and faces 17 years in prison.

Rizzo pleaded guilty in January in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to 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, and is scheduled to be sentenced April 14. His sentence in the Los Angeles Superior Court case regarding corruption charges is scheduled for April 16.

On Wednesday, the attorney for the scandal-plagued city said the corruption cost residents $12- to $18 million.

CNS contributed to this report.


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