Bell trial: Former D.A. calls verdicts 'step in the right direction'
The former district attorney who called Bell's scandalous salaries "corruption on steroids" called Wednesday's guilty verdicts "a step in the right direction."
Former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley spoke about the verdicts Wednesday afternoon at a retirement lunch for a longtime spokeswoman for the D.A.'s office. Cooley, who retired in December, said the jury's decision proved prosecutors were "conscientious and accurate" in filing charges.
"There are still some chapters that need to be written in terms of the justice system's response to the Bell scandal, namely Rizzo and Spaccia," Cooley said, referring to two other ex-city officials still awaiting trial. "We will wait for that to be resolved in a couple of months, but I think this is a step in the right direction."
The salaries earned by officials in the small, blue-collar town made national headlines in 2010 and resulted in one of the largest corruption cases in Los Angeles County history. Former City Administrator Robert Rizzo made nearly $800,000; his former assistant Angela Spaccia earned nearly $400,000 annually; and the six other ex-council members that stood trial received salaries of almost $100,000.
Five of those last six ex-officials were convicted on some counts of public corruption on Wednesday.
Ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were each found guilty of five counts of misappropriation of funds relating to the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority between Jan. 1, 2006, and July 26, 2010.
George Cole and Victor Bello also were found guilty of misappropriation of funds from the same department: Cole of two counts between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2007; and Bello of four counts between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2009.
But each of those five ex-council members were found not guilty for the same counts related to the Public Finance Authority during the same time periods.
Luis Artiga, whose verdict was read last, was acquitted of each of the counts he faced.
But despite a four-week trial and 18 days of deliberations, the jury remained undecided on about half of the counts, allegations related to the Community Housing and Surplus Property authorities.
Several jurors said they did not believe there was anything else that could be done to help them reach a verdict. But four jurors said they could use additional information about state laws.
The jurors handed Judge Kathleen Kennedy several questions after lunch, but she postponed further discussion about continued deliberations and ordered jurors to return Thursday at 9 a.m.
The jury told Kennedy that the vote was 9 to 3 on the remaining counts, but did not indicate whether they were leaning toward guilty or not guilty.
"We are in receipt of your questions, but we are not ready to respond to you quite yet," Kennedy said before sending them home.
Cooley said he would need more information about "what the issues may have been that led to the not guilty verdicts, but said "the fact that a number of them are guilty is very positive."
"I hope that public entities both here in Los Angeles County and elsewhere get a message that they cannot all loot the public treasury with abandon," he said. "At least in Los Angeles County, there's been someone who will pursue it. It was the case when I was D.A., and it's the case with Jackie Lacey as D.A."
— Kate Mather, Andrew Blankstein and Jack Leonard
Photo: Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announced the indictment of eight Bell city officials in September 2010. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times