Plea deals rejected by city council members in Bell corruption scandal

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The former City of Bell officials accused of looting the small blue-collar community of millions of dollars appeared in court on Monday, as Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller outlined the case against them.

All eight dependents charged with public corruption appeared in court, although the principal targets of the district attorney, city administrator Robert Rizzo and his assistant Angela Spaccia, were excused early. They are scheduled to return for a separate hearing next week.

Remaining in the courtroom of Judge Henry J. Hall were council members Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, and former council members Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello. The preliminary hearings, which are expected to last all week, will determine if prosecutors have enough evidence to bind them over for trail.

Prosecutors allege that the part-time council members were each paid over $100,000 per year , largely for serving on multiple bogus city commissions that rarely met. Some of the phony commissions were called the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, The Community Housing Authority, The Surplus Property Authority and the Public Finance Authority.

Miller said “They paid themselves for doing almost no work” and “robbed the citizens of over $1.3 million.”

In most California cities, council members are usually paid a few hundred dollars per month, or nothing at all.

The newest council member, Lorenzo Velez, the only official not charged in the scandal, was receiving $620 per month and had not yet been made a paid member of the phony commissions. When the salary scandal was first reported in the Los Angeles Times last summer, he said he wasn’t even aware of the existence of any of the commissions.

The district attorney’s office confirmed that it offered a plea deal to the six council members on Monday, in which they would be sentenced to two years in prison and make full restitution of the monies they received. All six defendants reportedly rejected the offer.

Prosecutors said  that city council members stood by and did little besides cash paychecks as Rizzo ran the city as a fiefdom, systematically looting it by overcharging property taxes, arbitrarily assessing licenses and fees on businesses, and making millions of dollars in unauthorized loans.

Rizzo’s total compensation in 2009 was more than $1.5 million.

Rizzo and Spaccia were not offered deals by the prosecution, and will be back in court for the next round of hearings on Feb. 14 when evidence against them will be presented.

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