A jury reached mixed verdicts Wednesday in the trials of six former Bell, Calif. officials charged with mismanaging public funds and collecting exorbitant salaries.
The Los Angeles County jury deliberated 18 days before finding former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former City Council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal each guilty on five felony counts of misappropriation of public funds while acquitting them of five other counts, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Former Councilman Victor Bello was found guilty of four counts of misusing public funds, and acquitted of four others, while former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others.
A sixth defendant, former Councilman Luis Artiga, was acquitted of all 12 counts against him. His attorney had argued that he joined the council in 2008 after the other members had already voted in the enormous salaries, the newspaper reported.
The council members were prosecuted for voting themselves extravagant pay for sitting on municipal boards on the following municipal boards that rarely met: the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.
The city achieved national notoriety in 2010 following news reports that City Manager Robert Rizzo was collecting an $800,000 salary, assistant manager Angela Spaccia was receiving $400,000, and the six part-time councilmembers in the working class city of 35,000 were receiving $100,000 a year.
After a jury reached a verdict, current city leaders sent out a long press release highlighting the changes made by the current leadership calling the verdict "a long-awaited day of justice for the City of Bell and its residents."
"While today's guilty ruling for five of the Bell Six helps bring some closure and justice to our community, there are still trial cases which remain pending — the trials of those remaining assailants that in my view plundered our City's resources and shackled Bell's hardworking families with an overwhelming tax burden," said Bell City Mayor Ali Saleh said in a prepared statement.
The trials of Rizzo and Spaccia are expected to begin in the next couple of months.
Rizzo was characterized during the trial as the ringleader in the theft of public funds that left the city nearly bankrupt and has resulted in residents paying the second highest property tax rates among Los Angeles' 88 cities.