Bell council trial: Defense urges acquittals

BELL, Calif.

Defense attorneys urged the jury to reject the prosecution's case, saying it failed to produce evidence that former Bell City Council members and mayors were criminally negligent. They acknowledge that they received large salaries while working for a poor city, but the defendants say that it wasn't corruption -- they say they worked full-time and more to earn it.

The defense asserts that council's pay was legally authorized by resolutions under the city's charter. That charter was pushed by former city manager Robert Rizzo, who will be tried later.

Defendant Oscar Hernandez says that neither Rizzo, nor the city attorney Edward Lee, nor the city clerk, raised a red flag.

Victor Bello's defense contends that he is a whistleblower who approached authorities years before the Bell scandal broke.

The defense says the prosecutor exaggerated numbers, that Luis Artiga did not earn $100,000 a year, but $130,000 for two years, joining the council long after the salaries were established.

At the end of the day, the prosecution had the final word, telling jurors that the defendants recklessly ignored the law, which limited the council salaries to $672 a month, not thousands more for sitting on city boards.

The jury will weigh a total of 20 felony counts against the defendants.

Rizzo and his assistant city manager, Angela Spazzio, face a trial later in the year.

A reported $5 million was allegedly taken from city coffers between 2006 and 2010. After disclosure of the scandal, Bell residents revolted and turned out in the thousands to protest at City Council meetings. They ultimately staged a successful recall election at which they threw out the entire council and elected a slate of new leaders.

If convicted on all counts, the defendants could spend from 11 to 20 years behind bars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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