Talk back: Do you think the Bell 6 are guilty?
A jury continues to deliberate the fates of six former Bell council members accused of raiding the small town’s treasury by drawing oversized salaries.
Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal are accused of drawing salaries as high as $100,000 a year from city boards that rarely met and did little work. The prosecution argued that the city’s charter limited council members’ pay to what state law dictated a city of a similar size could receive: $8,076.
The salaries were exposed in 2010, an era when the town’s finances were sagging, employees were being cut from the city payroll and a long-promised sports park remained fenced off.
After four weeks -- during which three council members testified that they had been tireless public servants -- the trial went to the jury Friday morning:
While the prosecution cast the six as thieves who thought more of their own wallets than their constituents’ needs, defense attorneys argued their clients were tireless advocates in a town that had been forced to weather the misdeeds of a scheming, ruthless city manager.
They stressed to jurors that the prosecution failed to prove criminal negligence -- that their clients knew what they were doing was wrong or that a reasonable person should have known.
The defense pinned much of the blame on a culture where City Administrator Robert Rizzo ruled with a strong hand, drafting resolutions for salary increases and manipulating council members to take city money. Cole testified that he voted in 2008 for a 12% annual pay raise because he feared Rizzo would gut the community programs he helped develop.
“We’re here for Mr. Rizzo’s sins,” said defense attorney George Mgdesyan.
Do you think the council members were criminally negligent in accepting oversized salaries? And do you think that much of the blame should be placed on Rizzo? Let us know in the comments below, or by tweeting @LANow or posting to our Local Facebook page.
-- Corina Knoll