Bell verdicts bring 'long-awaited day of justice,' city officials say
Guilty verdicts against five of six former City Council members in corruption case signified a "long-awaited day of justice" to the city's residents, according to a statement Wednesday from the city.
But Mayor Ali Saleh said the working-class community was waiting to see how the rest of the case would play out. Former city manager Robert Rizzo -- whose $800,000-a-year salary sparked the scandal -- and his former assistant Angela Spaccia, who earned nearly $400,000 annually, will both stand trial at a later date.
"While today's guilty ruling for five of the Bell Six helps bring some closure and justice to our community, there are still trial cases which remain pending — the trials of those remaining assailants that in my view plundered our city's resources and shackled Bell's hardworking families with an overwhelming tax burden," Saleh said in a statement.
"Our community will rest when the legal process has come full circle, and justice has been served," he said.
After a four-week trial and 18 days of deliberation, the jury delivered a mixed bag of verdicts for the so-called Bell Six. The jury found five of the defendants guilty on some charges but cleared them of others, and acquitted another, Luis Artiga, entirely.
The jury remained undecided on about half the counts the defendants faced. Several jurors said they did not believe there was anything else that could be done to help them reach a verdict, but four said they could use additional information about state laws.
Judge Kathleen Kennedy ordered the jury to take a lunch break. They were set to return at 2 p.m.
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 L.A. County history. Former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley called it "corruption on steroids," and residents were outraged.
In Bell, the reaction to Wednesday's verdicts were just as mixed as the decisions themselves.
"My husband gets really worked up, but we're happy. Right now we're going to go dance in City Hall," said Rosa Estela Martinez, 55, co-owner with her husband Enrique, 60, of Pacific Furniture on Gage Avenue. "When they first said guilty, I jumped with joy."
Her husband fulminated over the fact every one of the six ex-council members wasn't convicted of every single charge.
"They should have been found guilty of all 10 charges, each and every one of them," he said, slashing the air with his right arm for emphasis. "They're disgraces."
The couple have owned the business for more than 35 years, but when they bought the property, situated no more than two blocks from City Hall in 2005, they said city officials began harassing them.
Rizzo was described as "the tiger" who ran the city, but the couple said the council members were willing stooges, calling them "well-paid puppets." He was apoplectic as he watched on TV ex-councilman Luis Artiga being cleared of multiple charges.
"I'm not happy that the pastor was found not guilty," he said. "He's guilty 100%."
His wife said she wasn't too bothered by it, arguing that of all the ex-councilmembers, he seemed the most clueless and remorseful.
"He had a Bible with him. I think God probably helped Artiga if he had remorse," she said. "I think he asked for forgiveness at his church."
Her husband scoffed and said an honest person would never have taken the outsized salary Artiga and the others charged did.
"Rosa, it's simple, if you're supposed to get $600-700 to go to work and they're offering $100,000, you say no," he said. "It's called being honorable!"
"He gets mad," she told a reporter.
"I'm not happy. They should have been guilty of all 10 charges," he grumbled.
Vasgo Derparsghian, 48, said he was "99% sure they were not going to walk free," despite the jury's 18 days of deliberations.
"I'm tired of the case. I just want them to go to jail," Derparsghian said from behind the counter of his Bell Discount Cigarettes. "I don't know why it took such a long time, man. Two and a half years, come on, man."
— Kate Mather in Los Angeles and Hector Becerra in Bell
Photo: Mayor Ali Saleh speaks to the media after the guilty verdicts are read during the corruption trial of former Bell city council members. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times