Bell corruption trial: Still no verdict, jurors now on day 12
Although a Los Angeles Superior Court judge expressed optimism that a verdict was close in the Bell corruption trial, jurors remained behind closed doors Monday, locked in their 12th day of deliberations.“I think we may hear something from the jury today,” Judge Kathleen Kennedy said as last week was coming to a close. “Fridays are really good days for verdicts.”
But the day passed without a decision, forcing the jury to start another week of discussions to determine whether six former Bell council members illegally boosted their annual salaries, which ran as high as $100,000, by drawing pay from serving on boards and authorities that seldom met.
The trial of Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal began Jan. 24 and the case went to the jury Feb. 22. Less than a week after they started, the deliberations hit a bump with the report of a deadlock and the removal of a juror.
That juror, a white-haired woman who earlier had tearfully requested to leave, saying she was being picked on by others, was replaced by an alternate. Kennedy then instructed the panel to restart their efforts and act as if the earlier days of deliberations had not taken place.A week later, the jury requested a reading of the testimony of a district attorney’s investigator who had been called as a witness.
The testimony concerned the investigator’s request for documents establishing the pay for council members and those serving on boards. In a separate note, jurors asked for copies of five documents that pertained to resolutions regarding salaries of the authorities.
“We would like six copies of each so we can speed up deliberations,” the note said.
The next day, jurors sent another note to the judge asking whether members of the Bell Community Housing Authority could be paid only for meetings or whether they could also receive pay for other duties.
State law says housing authority members can be paid $50 a meeting for up to four meetings a month. Defense attorneys have argued that their clients worked tirelessly for Bell and could receive additional compensation for work outside meetings.
The case is the first chapter in a broader prosecution of alleged municipal corruption in which authorities contend that the city's then-chief executive -- Robert Rizzo -- dipped into the city treasury by paying huge salaries, loaning city money and padding retirement accounts, at a time when the city's finances were starting to crumble.
The revelation of Rizzo’s near-$800,000 annual paycheck led to outrage in the small, blue-collar city, which ended up firing most of the city’s administration and holding a recall election.
Rizzo and Angela Spaccia, Bell's former assistant city administrative officer, are expected to go on trial later this year.
-- Corina Knoll
Photo: Former Bell city council members in court. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times