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Calif. city corruption case heading to close

Council members, mayors are accused of ripping off millions

By Linda Deutsh
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Closing the first act in a corruption case, a prosecutor and defense attorneys plan to argue Wednesday whether testimony in the trial of six Bell city officials proves they were corrupt.

Most of the defendants testified in the month-long trial, saying that they earned the salaries they collected as members of the Bell city council. Their compensation ran into the six figures.

All six are charged with misappropriation of public funds.

The defendants justified their enormous salaries as fair pay for long hours of work in the city, according to The Los Angeles Times. They blamed City Manager Robert Rizzo for the rip-off that cost the city millions of dollars.

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

The defendants said they were never told anything they did was illegal, according to the Times. Bell City Attorney Edward Lee wrote the city's charter and was blamed by defendants for not telling them their salaries could be illegal, though neither side called him as a witness.

Testimony revealed evidence of falsified salaries and a city clerk who signed minutes for meetings she didn't attend.

Authorities say the defendants stole more than $300,000 during a two-minute meeting in which they voted themselves salary raises for their sham positions.

Legally, said Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller, the officials could have paid themselves $673 a month for what was a part-time job, since they did not actually run the city.

Those on trial are former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former vice mayor Teresa Jacobo, and former council members George Mirabal, George Cole, Victor Bello and Luis Artiga. All but one of the defendants served as mayor at some point.

Miller alleged that in addition to their council salaries of upward of $80,000 a year, the officials appointed each other to the commissions that did nothing and often met yearly just to increase their salaries.

The most blatant, he said, was creation of the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, which he called "a fiction" designed to line the officials' pockets.

"They gave themselves raises which were not even drafted by a lawyer. Somebody just made this up out of the blue," Miller said.

During Cole's testimony, the prosecutor pointed out that the councilman had a chauffeur and car to get around the city, which spans just 2 1/2 miles.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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