Bell

Corruption prosecutions in the working-class City of Bell were sparked by investigative reporting in the Los Angeles, Times, which revealed that city officials were receiving salaries that were  the highest in the nation.  Subsequent investigation publicized atypically high property tax rates, allegations of voter fraud in municipal elections and other irregularities.

In February 2011, the District Attorney charged six city officials – Mayor Oscar Hernandez, City Council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, and former council members Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello–with misappropriation of public funds. In a separate case, former city administrator Robert Rizzo and his deputy,  Angela Spaccia were charged with misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, falsifying public documents, and secreting public documents.  Rizzo had reaped a $800,000 salary in his position.

The trial of the six city officials in early 2013 ended with mixed verdicts, after the jury deliberated for 17 days.  Luis Artiga was acquitted of all charges, and the other defendants convicted on numerous counts of misuse and/or misappropriation of public funds, and acquitted on others.  The jury deadlocked on 42 other charges.  In a bizarre turn, the day after the verdicts were rendered, one juror asked for permission to reexamine the verdicts.   In May, prosecutors announced their intention to re-try the remaining five defendants on the deadlocked charges.

The councilmen had reaped salaries for serving on various city agencies that prosecutors alleged were shams and did nothing.  The defense had blamed the former City Administrator, Robert Rizzo, for structuring their salaries and the former city attorney for failing to advise them that the salaries were improper.

Rizzo will be standing trial in September 2012 on 69 corruption-related charges, along with his assistant administrator, Angela Spaccia, who faces 13.  The defendants are seeking a change of venue outside of the circulation area of the Los Angeles Times.

 

 

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