5 of 6 ex-officials guilty in Bell, Calif., case
LOS ANGELES – Five former elected officials of the small, blue-collar California city of Bell were convicted Wednesday of multiple counts of misappropriating public funds by paying themselves huge salaries while raising taxes on residents.
Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and co-defendants Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole and Victor Belo were all convicted of multiple counts and acquitted of others.
Former Councilman Luis Artiga was cleared entirely.
The charges against the officials involved paying themselves inflated salaries of up to $100,000 a year in the city of 36,000 people, where one in four residents live 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, an agency that prosecutors had argued during trial served no purpose other than to pay them a salary.
All were cleared of charges that they illegally tapped public money while serving on the city’s Public Financing Authority. The waste authority was never created legally and met only once in 2006, which boosted pay by about $13,000 per member.
Artiga was found not guilty of a dozen allegations. He was the only defendant who had not served as mayor at some point.
Artiga wept as the clerk read the not guilty verdicts against him, and he thanked members of the community who believed in his innocence.