D.A. to jurors: Nobody is above the law, not even in Bell
Six former Bell council members believed they were above law as they pocketed extraordinary salaries for their part-time work as leaders in one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday during closing arguments in a far-reaching municipal corruption case.
The fate of the former council members, all charged with misappropriation of funds, is expected to go to the jury after the prosecution and defense attorneys completed final arguments in the case, possibly as soon as Wednesday.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller's opened by showing a PowerPoint slide with an organizational chart of city government with the electorate at the top.
Then he flipped it upside down and said: “These defendants did not have the residents of Bell at the top of heir chart. The electorate was at the bottom. “
“The defendants in this case believed they were above the law and carried out their duties with a criminal disregard not only for the written law but for all the unwritten laws of common decency,” he said.
“This was a city turned upside down by a culture of corruption.”
Miller said the best witnesses in court — who told the truth and were unbiased — were all the documents shown.
“These witnesses were the pieces of paper signed and voted for by Bell City Council, the instruments by which they stole $1.3 million from the citizens of Bell — proof that the pen is mightier than the sword when it comes to white-collar crime.”
Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal are accused of drawing annual salaries of up to nearly $100,000 from boards that did little work and rarely met.
Defense attorneys — who have yet to deliver their closing arguments — have put much of the blame on Robert Rizzo, Bell's former city manager, who defendants contend was so intimidating that they followed his lead, right down to the inflated amounts of their paychecks.
Miller, though, painted a different portrait.
"No person is above the law,” he told jurors, “not even a Bell City Council member."
— Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Six former Bell city leaders George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez and Victor Bello at their trial that started at Los Angeles County Superior Courtin January. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times