Ex-Bell councilman testifies: 'I did nothing against the law.'
A former Bell city councilman charged with misappropriation of public funds testified Monday that he had done nothing illegal and regarded himself as a hard-working city leader.
George Mirabal, who along with five former colleagues is accused of drawing a nearly $100,000 salary by serving on boards that did little work and seldom met, was the second defendant to testify in the municipal corruption case.
Mirabal said that city council minutes did not reflect the long hours he put into the authorities. He described visiting High Tech High, a charter school in San Diego, to research opening a similar school in Bell through the Surplus Property Authority.
“It gave a new concept as to how a school should be run,” he said.
He also said that he attended workshops to gain information on how to approach the city’s desire for its own trash company. Prosecutors have called the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority a “sham" and questioned what possible purpose it had.
Mirabal estimated he worked at least 40 hours a week as a council member.
“I keep hearing time frames over and over again but there’s no clock when you’re working on the council,” he said. “You’re working on the circumstances that are facing you. If a family calls … you don’t say, ‘4 o clock work's over.’”
“Do you believe you gave everything you could to the citizens of Bell?” his attorney Alex Kessel asked.
“I’d give more,” Mirabal replied.
He said he felt that his salary matched his work in the community.
"I equate compensation with the freedom to be where you have to be in order to do your job correctly,” he said. “I did nothing against the law.”
“I thought I could do a good job representing them,” he said. “I think I was told a number of times that a Hispanic couldn’t win an election in Bell. I thought it was hogwash.”
Sometime after his term ended he served as the city clerk for a couple years. He was elected again in the 1990s. After another break in service, he was appointed to the council in 2003.
Mirabal said he was a firm supporter of the city charter that passed in 2005 and viewed it as the city’s “constitution.” One of the provisions of the charter cleared the way for the council to draw higher salaries than state law allowed.
“So you believe in the charter?” Kessel asked.
“I believe in it today.”
About the time the charter passed, Mirabal said, he began to have trouble with then-City Manager Robert Rizzo’s management style.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller questioned the former councilman about the day he volunteered to speak to prosecutors shortly after his arrest in 2010. On that day, Miller said, the former councilman had initially said that no work was done on the authorities outside of meetings.
Mirabal said if he had made such a statement, it was incorrect. He said he couldn’t remember what was said back then and “might have heed and hawed.”
“So it’s easy to remember now?” Miller asked.
“Yes, actually,” Mirabal said.
“More than two years after charges have been filed it’s easier for you to remember now that you did work outside of the meetings for the Public Finance Authority?” Miller asked.
“Yes, sir,” Mirabal said.
-- Corina Knoll
Photo: Former Bell Councilman George Mirabal in court last month. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times