Bell council corruption case goes to jury

BELL, Calif.

The jurors received the case for deliberations after final arguments wrapped up on Thursday.

Defense attorneys insist that the prosecution failed to prove its case and that the defendants' huge salaries were legally authorized by resolutions under the city's charter.

Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and former council members George Cole, George Mirabal, Victor Bello and Luis Artiga are charged with misappropriating funds from the blue-collar city.

The former officials are accused of taking $1.3 million from the city. If convicted, the defendants face sentences ranging from 11 to 20 years in prison.

Jurors have no easy task ahead of them.

The defense calls the six former Bell council members hard-working, but clueless when it came to interpreting the city charter that limited their pay. The prosecution portrays them as willing partners in a scheme to approve for themselves bloated salaries.

"This quite simply was not government of by or for the people. This was government for themselves," said prosecutor Ed Miller.

Bell residents watched the month long trial and remain bitter. While the jury deliberates on the "Bell Six," a separate trial lies ahead for the alleged ringleader, former city manager Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia. The defense argued they are the real culprits.

The ex-officials allegedly bilked the low-income community out of $6 million. Protests erupted as a state audit revealed that the city raised property taxes and other fees to pay officials salaries. The blue-collar residents came to pay some highest tax rates in L.A. County.

The former officials say they worked full time to help the community and relied on the city attorney to advise them on money matters.

"He had no legal training," said attorney Ronald O. Kaye about his client, George Cole. "He had no accounting training."

Defendant Oscar Hernandez said he didn't even finish elementary school.

Now the jury faces a hefty job. The verdict forms alone number more than 100 pages.

City Manager Robert Rizzo and Assistant Manager Angela Spaccia will face a separate trial later this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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