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Bell defense says accused city leaders hardworking, charitable

January 24, 2013 |  6:23 pm

Bell

Defense attorneys for half a dozen former Bell council members accused in a widespread municipal corruption case have completed opening statements and the first witness will be called Friday.

The former council members are accused of scheming to inflate their part-time pay by collecting stipends for serving on boards that rarely met and did little, if any, work.

Over and over, attorneys for the former city leaders placed the blame on the town’s city attorney and former administrator Robert Rizzo, who also is accused in the alleged corruption.

But defense attorneys lingered on descriptions of their clients in an effort to describe them in human and compassionate terms.

Teresa Jacobo created an organization for teachers and community members to discuss education and initiated a breast cancer awareness march, her attorney said.

Luis Artiga’s attorney said his client reached out to at-risk youths as well as juggled his council and pastor duties.

George Cole was instrumental in building several schools, one of which was to be named after him, his attorney said.

Stanley L. Friedman said his client, former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, is an up-from-the-bootstraps man who emigrated from Mexico to pick peaches and tomatoes and became a leader, despite his sixth-grade education and limited ability to read and write English.

Hernandez, he said, eventually found work in a foundry in Vernon. Later, he bought a market in Bell where his wife and four children also worked, Friedman said.

One of the people who often would come into his store was a young girl named Rebecca Valdez, who would become Bell’s city clerk. She is expected to be the first witness to testify for the prosecution Friday.

Friedman called her “in many respects, the most important witness in the case.”

--Jeff Gottlieb and Corina Knoll

Photo: Former Bell officials appear for a massive city corruption trial in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.  From left are former council members Luis Artiga and George Mirabal (partly hidden at rear), former Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, former council member George Cole, former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, and former council member Victor Bello. Credit: Francine Orr/ LA Times.

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