Bell jury selected, stage now set for corruption trial
A jury of eight women and four men has been selected to determine the fate of half a dozen former Bell City Council members accused of plundering the small city’s treasury by drawing enormous salaries for their part-time work and collecting pay for serving on boards that rarely, if ever, met.
The trial for Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal will open Thursday morning. All six face potential prison terms if convicted.
The municipal corruption case exploded more than two years ago when the council members and ranking city administrators were accused of raiding the town’s money by paying themselves huge salaries, lending out municipal funds and imposing illegal taxes on residents.
The former administrators -– onetime chief executive Robert Rizzo and assistant city manager Angela Spaccia –- are expected to be tried later this year, though Rizzo’s attorney had already said that he will ask for the trial to be moved out of the Los Angeles Times' circulation area because of the publicity that the case has drawn.
In a two-day push, attorneys plowed through about 150 juror questionnaires before settling on the panel, which includes six alternates.
In the early going, some people were dismissed on the weight of the questionnaires alone. One would-be juror said the ex-city officials had “raped constituents”; another said she was “riveted and repulsed by the greed.”
Other jury candidates had only a vague recollection of the case, which left the L.A. County city on the edge of insolvency and made the town the butt of jokes about municipal mismanagement.
-- Corina Knoll
Photo: Some of the accused former council members in court last year. Credit: Los Angeles Times.