Bell defense: 'We are here for Mr. Rizzo's sins'
Defense attorneys in the Bell corruption case turned on the prosecutor Thursday, calling him a "Monday morning quarterback" whose arguments were “hogwash” and relied on theatrics and emotion to hide that he hadn't proved his case.
“Mr. [Edward] Miller has thrown out these red herrings to you, these things to glom on to,” defense attorney Alex Kessel said in his closing statement. “You know what the prosecutor has done in terms of proving the case? Nothing.”Kessel, the attorney for former Bell Councilman George Mirabal, said the prosecutor threw “bits and pieces” against the wall, hoping something stuck. His client is one of six former council members accused of raiding the city treasury by paying extravagant salaries in one of Los Angeles County’s poorest towns.
The four-week trial, the outgrowth of a salary scandal that turned the small city into an instant headline, is expected to conclude Friday and probably will go to the jury by the weekend.
But defense attorneys said that, if anything, their clients have unfairly become fall guys in a city ruled by a virtual strongman who controlled nearly every aspect of civic life.
Kessel questioned why former City Atty. Edward Lee did not testify. “He didn’t even call the legal eagle for the city of Bell,” Kessel said.
The defense has argued that Lee was responsible for letting council members know if their salaries were illegal.
Ex-Councilman Luis Artiga’s attorney, George Mgdesyan, told jurors that the prosecution’s case “is full of holes and speculation.”
He pointed out that much of the testimony was about things that happened before his client was appointed in 2008.
“Ask yourself when you’re in the jury room, ‘What did Mr. Miller present against Mr. Luis Artiga?’” Mgdesyan said.
Mgdesyan then implied that the council members were hauled into court while other Bell employees were given immunity in exchange for their testimony because it made for bigger headlines.
Artiga, Mirabal, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez and Teresa Jacobo each face potential prison sentences if convicted of misappropriating public funds.
Robert Rizzo, the city’s former manager, is also accused of corruption and is to face trial later this year, along with the former assistant city administrator.
“We’re here for Mr. Rizzo’s sins, ladies and gentlemen,” Mgdesyan said. “We’re here because Mr. Rizzo became financially greedy.”
Bello’s attorney reminded jurors that the investigation started when his client went to the district attorney in 2009.
“You’ve all heard testimony about Mr. Bello the whistle-blower,” Leo Moriarty said, punctuating his sentence with a whistle.
“He had nothing to hide,” he said. “He went there and told them how much he was making. Absolutely no one told him he was doing anything illegal.”
Moriarty also hinted that the case against the council members was brought because then-Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley was running for attorney general. He said that if the prosecution put a mirror in front of itself, nothing would appear.
“Almost like being a vampire, almost like being an evil -- they can’t see the reflection because there’s nothing there.”
Moriarty likened himself to Don Quixote, “a man who wanted to fight injustice,” and his client to Sancho Panza.
Miller defended himself in his rebuttal. “I think I heard my name in this case mentioned more than Robert Rizzo’s,” the deputy district attorney said. “Well, guess what, this case isn’t about me or any of the other attorneys.… The defense’s attacks on me are merely attacks to distract you from this overwhelming evidence.”
Miller responded to the defense’s contention that auditors, the state pension system and the city attorney never flagged the salaries as illegal.
“This defense of ‘They didn’t catch me, so you can’t convict me,’ is silly,’” he said, adding, “How were they supposed to know that some 2.5-square-mile city in Southern California is being run by a band of crooks?”
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-- Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Luis Artiga, a former Bell councilman, in court Wednesday. Credit: Associated Press