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Bell corruption case now in the hands of jury

Former Bell leaders Luis Artiga, left, Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole and Oscar Hernandez in court. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.

A municipal corruption case in which half a dozen former Bell council members are accused of paying themselves huge salaries for doing little work in one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities is in the hands of jurors.

The four-week trial — the first of two criminal cases arising from the city’s 2010 salary scandal — went to the jury mid-morning Friday.

Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal are accused of misappropriating public funds by drawing salaries as high as nearly $100,000 for serving on boards and authorities that seldom met and did little work.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller said the politicians were driven by a desire to fatten their wallets rather than serving their low-income constituents.

At various times, the prosecutor described the elected officials — one a pastor in the small city, another a former steelworker — as thieves or charlatans who gamed the system.

“We know that they buried their heads in the sand and kept their hands out,” Miller told jurors Friday.

He called the defendants “the one-percenters in Bell.”

Defense attorneys painted a starkly different picture of the ex-leaders, describing them as honest, hard-working civic boosters who spent hours behind the scenes trying to make the city a better place.

Some of the defendants said they earned every penny they made; others said they relied on the advice of top city officials that their salaries were legal.

Earlier on Friday, defense attorneys requested a mistrial in response to a statement made by the prosecutor about the absence of an auditor on the witness stand.

“Where is the auditor who said this was OK?” Miller said Thursday to the jury.

Ronald Kaye argued Friday that Miller had violated the judge’s order that excluded the city’s audits and auditors from being called to the witness stand by either side.

Kaye, Cole’s attorney, said that the jury was left with the impression that the defense was “hiding the ball.”

The other defense attorneys joined him in the motion and alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

Judge Kathleen Kennedy denied the mistrial request but did inform the jury that neither the auditors nor actual audits were admissible in the case and instructed them to disregard Miller’s argument.

All could potentially face jail or even prison terms if convicted.

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--Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Former Bell leaders Luis Artiga, left, Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole and Oscar Hernandez in court. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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