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Bell council members took pay for 'sham' board meetings, D.A. says

January 24, 2013 |  1:28 pm

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Opening statements began Thursday in the trial against six former Bell council members accused of paying themselves extraordinarily high salaries for their part-time work, largely by collecting pay for serving on boards and commissions that rarely, if ever, met.

Deputy Dist. Atty Edward Miller walked the jury through a PowerPoint presentation that listed how often the four agencies met. One screen shot read, “Agendas for each had one item. Pay raises.”

Between 2006 and 2007, Miller said the total meeting time for all of the boards was 34 minutes.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell trial

“The evidence will show that they worked less minutes than my opening statement will take this morning,” he said.

He pointed out that the Solid Waste Authority met for just two minutes one year.

“This was a sham from the beginning,” he said. “The two minutes was just to pass a resolution to establish their pay. They did nothing else that year.”

The prosecutor said the former council members cost the city $1.3 million with their inflated salaries.

Later, Miller turned to the jury of eight women and four men and said, “So how did they get away with it? Well, unfortunately, participation by the community in Bell city politics wasn’t very good.”

The corruption case in Bell exploded more than two years ago when The Times revealed that council members were making about $100,000 a year. The town’s chief administrator, Robert Rizzo, was being compensated nearly $1 million for running the largely immigrant city of about 35,000 residents.

Rizzo, along with former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, will stand trial later this year.

Authorities said their investigation showed that the elected leaders and top administrators had been raiding the city treasury by drawing huge salaries, lending out city money and imposing illegal taxes on residents of the L.A. County city.

Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal all face potential prison terms if convicted.

The trial drew a few Bell residents, including Donna Gannon, who has lived in the city for more than 35 years. Gannon, 59, said she plans to run for city council and wanted to attend the hearing to learn more about the charges against the defendants. She hopes to relay the information to residents.

“There’s a lot of information we don’t know and are still confused about,” she said. “Right now we’re in the dark. There’s still an elephant in the room, and we’re here to learn the details.”

After the lunch break, opening statements will be heard from all six defense attorneys. One said he was not impressed by Miller’s remarks.

“There were no surprises,” Hernandez’s attorney, Stanley L. Friedman, said. “Where’s the beef?”

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-- Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Former Bell city officials and their attorneys in court today. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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