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Six former Bell council members lose appeal

A state appellate court rejects a petition to dismiss most of their corruption charges. They now may take their case to the state Supreme Court.

December 31, 2011|By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Bell officials, from left, George Cole, Luis Artiga, George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo and Oscar Hernandez, at a hearing in February.
Former Bell officials, from left, George Cole, Luis Artiga, George Mirabal,… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

A state appellate court has rejected a petition from six former Bell council members to dismiss most of their corruption charges.

Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal had argued that the evidence prosecutors presented against them at their preliminary hearing was insufficient to bind them over for trial. No date has been set.

All six are accused of collecting excessive pay for sitting on city boards that rarely, if ever, met.

The pay they received for serving on boards such as the Surplus Property Authority and the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority pushed their salaries to nearly six figures, even though they held part-time positions. By 2010, council members were receiving $1,453 a month for serving on each of four boards.

The two-sentence order denying the petition was signed without comment by Justices Dennis M. Perluss and Laurie D. Zelon of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. The order was issued Tuesday.

"I'm disappointed given the importance of the case," said Stanley L. Friedman, Hernandez's attorney.

He said attorneys for the defendants planned to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Artiga and Hernandez also face charges of borrowing city funds for personal expenses.

Previous judges have chastised the former council members.

In rejecting their motion to drop the charges earlier this month, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy issued a scathing 10-page ruling brushing aside the politicians' contention that they did not know they might be breaking the law and that their salaries were protected by the city's charter.

"The city of Bell charter," Kennedy wrote, "did not make Bell a sovereign nation not subject to the general penal laws of the State of California."

In addition to the former council members, former Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo and his top aide, Angela Spaccia, are charged with drawing huge salaries that the council never approved, giving themselves extra benefits and lending money to city employees and business owners.

Rizzo was receiving total compensation of about $1.5 million a year.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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