Bell, Calif., corruption hearings begin

Feb. 7, 2011 at 8:04 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- The first of three pre-trial hearings began for eight city officials of Bell, Calif., to see if there is enough evidence to try them on corruption charges.

Before the hearing began, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office offered six of the so-called Bell 8 the chance to plead guilty and pay back the $5.5 million they allegedly looted from Bell's city treasury in exchange for two-year state prison sentences, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

All eight have pleaded not guilty, all but Victor Bello are free on bail, and all six who have allegedly been offered plea deals have responded "no comment" with the exception of Luis Artiga, who said through his attorney the offer was unacceptable, KNX Newsradio, Los Angeles, reported.

The deals allegedly were not offered to the city's former administrators, Robert Rizzo and Angela Spaccia, the Times said.

Jennifer Lentz Snyder, head deputy of the district attorney's public integrity division, said there is supposed to be three separate but consecutive hearings.

The first, beginning Monday, involves City Council members Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal and former members Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello, who allegedly were paid more than $1.2 million collectively for presiding over four city commissions that either never met or met only for a few minutes a session, the Times reported.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall set a second preliminary hearing for Feb. 14 at 9 a.m. at which time Hernandez, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia will appear in court. Rizzo and Spaccia are charged with misappropriation of public funds.

Rizzo faces more than 50 counts and is charged with awarding himself almost $1.9 million in unlawful city loans to himself and nearly 50 Bell employees among others, the Times said.

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