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District attorney will retry Bell officials accused of corruption

May 21, 2013|By Corina Knoll
  • The L.A. County district attorney's office will retry five former Bell City Council members accused of misappropriation of public funds.
The L.A. County district attorney's office will retry five former… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office plans to retry the case against Bell council members accused of misappropriating public funds by overpaying themselves for sitting on city boards and authorities that rarely met, according to defense attorneys connected with the case.

In March, a jury delivered a mixed verdict for Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, finding them guilty on multiple felony counts and acquitting them on other charges. Luis Artiga, a pastor, was the only defendant to win full acquittal.

The verdicts were announced after 17 days behind closed doors, but jurors were asked to return for an additional day to deliberate on remaining counts that some believed could be decided after more direction from the court.

FULL COVERAGE: Corruption in Bell

That day, however, came to a chaotic end with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy declaring a mistrial on the outstanding counts after one juror asked to reconsider the guilty verdicts already reached and another passed a note urging the judge to "remind the jury to remain respectful and not to make false accusations and insults to one another."

Kennedy drew the case to a close March 21, saying, "all hell has broken loose."

The panel of seven women and five men had shown signs of discord throughout the trial, and the dissension worsened during the last few days, one juror said.

"It was very, very tense, and I believe that if we hadn't ended when we did it probably could have been a lot worse," said the juror who asked to remain anonymous and said she was in favor of guilt. "I believe that [the defendants] were good people but that wasn't what we were there to decide. I was doing my best to base everything on the evidence and the facts of the case."

The case will be retried by Sean Hassett and Max Huntsman, said Hernandez's attorney, Stanley Friedman. Edward Miller, the prosecutor who faced six attorneys during the monthlong trial, has been transferred to the Healthcare Fraud Division.

"I'm not surprised given the politics of it all," Friedman said about the decision for a retrial. "It's an admission by the D.A.'s office that, largely, it was a favorable outcome for the defendants."

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Corina.Knoll@latimes.com

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