5 of 6 officials convicted in scam that hit Calif. city

Posted: March 22, 2013

LOS ANGELES - Five former elected officials of the tiny California city of Bell were convicted Wednesday of multiple counts of misappropriation of public funds, and a sixth defendant was cleared.

Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and codefendants Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole, and Victor Belo were convicted of multiple counts and acquitted of others.

The charges involved paying themselves inflated salaries of up to $100,000 a year in the city of 36,000, where one resident in four lives below the poverty line.

An audit by the state controller's office previously found the city had illegally raised property taxes, business license fees, and other sources of revenue to pay the salaries. The office ordered the money repaid.

The guilty findings were related to the appointment of the defendants to the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority. The board was one of several that prosecutors said council members appointed one another to in order to pad their salaries.

The waste authority was never created legally and met only once in 2006, which boosted pay by about $13,000 per member.

Former Councilman Luis Artiga was found not guilty of a dozen allegations. His attorney, George Mgdesyan, said Artiga was not involved in the committees where the corruption began.

The scandal that rocked Bell raised the curtain on a fiefdom established by former City Manager Robert Rizzo. City records revealed Rizzo had an annual salary and compensation package worth $1.5 million.

His salary alone was about $800,000 a year, double that of the president.

He and his assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia, face trial later in the year.

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