Last Update: Thursday, May 23, 2013
|City of Bell Trial|
|Written by Terri Vermeulen Keith|
|Thursday, 21 February 2013 08:28|
LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Six former Bell city officials gouged taxpayers by collecting exorbitant salaries, ignoring the needs of residents while operating in a "culture of corruption," a prosecutor told jurors today.
The former mayor of Bell and five ex-City Council members are accused of stealing more than $1.3 million from the city by collecting exorbitant salaries for serving on various city agencies - - although defense attorneys contend their clients were being compensated for full-time service.
Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 65, and excouncil members Teresa Jacobo, 54, and George Mirabal, 63, are each charged with 20 counts of misappropriating public funds between January 2006 and July 2010.
Former councilman Victor Bello, 54, is charged with 16 counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2009, while ex-councilman Luis Artiga, 51, is charged with 12 counts of misappropriation between January 2008 and July 2010 and former councilman George Cole, 63, is charged with eight counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2007.
"The defendants in this case believed they were above the law and carried out their duties with a criminal disregard," Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller told jurors during his closing argument. "... This was a city turned upside down by a culture of corruption."
Miller said the defendants were all collecting more than $100,000 a year, when the legal salary for their positions was around $8,000. "There was no authority of law for these outrageous salaries the defendants paid themselves," Miller said. "... There's none, zip." Miller showed jurors an organizational chart of the city, with the electorate at the top. He then flipped the chart over, noting that the defendants didn't have the residents at the top of their chart.
"The electorate was at the bottom," he said. Jacobo, Mirabal and Cole all testified in their own defense during the trial, insisting in part that they were paid in accordance with the amount of work they performed for the city. Attorneys for all the defendants were expected to make their closing arguments later today and possibly tomorrow.
Miller contended during the trial that the defendants paid themselves illegal salaries for sitting on four boards -- the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.
Defense lawyers countered that their clients relied on the city attorney and an independent auditor who never questioned their salaries, and said the defendants honestly believed the money reflected a reasonable amount given the time they spent doing city work.
Attorneys for some of the defendants have pointed fingers at former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, contending he kept them in the dark about his own salary and benefits package.
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 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.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 08:35|