Bell corruption case: Jury selected, opening statements Thursday

BELL, Calif.

Attorneys filtered 150 prospective jurors with the help of a 24-page questionnaire designed to eliminate those who may be biased by news coverage. The 12 jurors, along with six alternates, will return to court at 9:30 a.m. Thursday for opening statements.

In their opening statements, prosecutors are expected to outline a pattern of alleged corruption by former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and ex-council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello. Defense attorneys will claim their clients earned their salaries by working for the benefit of the roughly 35,000 residents.

The ousted council members each earned $100,000 per year for a part-time job working for one of the poorest cities in California. They are each facing multiple counts -- some as many as 20 -- of misappropriating city funds through their work on various city agencies, including the Community Housing Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.

Former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his then-assistant, Angela Spaccia, are awaiting trial in a separate corruption case. More than 50 counts of fraud have been filed against Rizzo, seen as the ringleader of the alleged effort to loot the city's treasury by paying bloated salaries to himself and other officials and arranging illicit loans of taxpayer money. Both will be tried later.

Rizzo earned an annual salary and compensation package worth $1.5 million while Spaccia was paid $376,288 per year.

"These six people are people from the community that relied on lawyers and accountants for their salaries, they had no reason to believe there was anything illegal," said Harland Braun, who represents Spaccia.

Braun said Spaccia took and passed a private lie detector test last week and handed it to the district attorney's office. It was administered by Jack Trimarco, a former FBI examiner. Among the question for Spaccia was whether she had known the Bell appropriations were illegal.

"She passed that with flying colors," Braun said.

Rizzo's attorney said he wants to move the trial out of Los Angeles where a jury would be less exposed to pretrial publicity, perhaps in San Francisco or further north.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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