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Category: Southeast

Bell: Appellate court rules city can seek restitution for salaries

Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court in February 2012 for proceedings in the criminal case against himself and former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, who are charged with misappropriation of public funds and other counts. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

A California Court of Appeal said Wednesday the state attorney general can seek full restitution against eight former Bell officials in a civil suit.

"Today marks the beginning of a new dawn for Bell and its residents," Mayor Ali Saleh said. "We are very pleased with the outcome of today's court decision."

The announcement is more bad news for five of the six former Bell council members who were found guilty Wednesday of misappropriating public funds. It also may pose a problem for Luis Artiga, the only defendant exonerated in the corruption trial, who is seeking payment from the city for his legal fees.

CHEAT SHEET: Bell corruption verdicts

Two years ago, the former officials claimed the city owed them collectively in excess of $4 million in legal defense fees, according to city officials.

Now they face well in excess of that amount in restitution claims, officials say.

That case names ex-City Administrator Robert Rizzo, his assistant Angela Spaccia, former police Chief Randy Adams, and the five former councilmembers who were convicted Wednesday: Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Rizzo and Spaccia will both stand trial later this year.

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Man allegedly under influence of nitrous oxide in car crash

Lynwood crash was caused by a driver who allegedy used nitrous oxide
A man was allegedly driving under the influence of nitrous oxide when he injured four others and himself in a hit-and-run crash in Lynwood, authorities said Wednesday.

The man was speeding near Atlantic Avenue and Imperial Highway on Monday when he smashed his car into the rear end of a vehicle, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.

The impact knocked both vehicles into the intersection, where they hit a third vehicle. The suspect fled but was taken into custody on a nearby street, according to the department.

"It is alleged that the suspect was under the influence on nitrous oxide at the time of the collision," department officials said in a statement. They said a cylinder possibly containing the gas was found in the man's vehicle.

The man's name was not released. The victims sustained injuries described by authorities as moderate to serious.

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Photo: Deputies at the site of Monday's vehicle accident. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Magnitude 2.8 earthquake hits near Vernon

A map of the earthquake that struck near Vernon.

A magnitude 2.8 earthquake struck near Vernon about 9:22 a.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake was centered two miles north of Vernon and 2 miles southwest of East Los Angeles.

Several people in southeast Los Angeles County reported feeling the earthquake, according to "Did You Feel It?" responses on the USGS website. A couple of people in Long Beach and South Pasadena also reported feeling it.

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Image: A map of the earthquake that struck near Vernon. Credit: USGS

Two sentenced to prison for collecting benefits for inmates

Two people convicted of collecting unemployment benefits for incarcerated gang members -- including a man who ended up behind bars after a detective recognized the tattoo of an unsolved murder scene emblazoned on his chest -- will now serve prison time themselves.

Juan Garcia, 48, and Sandra Jaimez, 46, were sentenced Tuesday by Norwalk Superior Court Judge Robert Higa to five years in prison. They were also ordered to return the more than $20,000 they bilked from the state's Employment Development Department, according to a statement released by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

A second woman, Cynthia Limas, pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme last year.

Between October 2008 and August 2010, the defendants cashed unemployment checks for inmate Anthony Garcia, the son of Juan Garcia, and submitted change of address forms in his name, officials said.

In a statement released last year after prosecutors filed charges against Juan Garcia and the two women, then-Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley called the case an example of money going to people “who don’t deserve these benefits.”

“It’s no wonder the state is facing such financial difficulties,” Cooley said.

The older Garcia and Jaimez each pleaded guilty to making false unemployment insurance claims, prosecutors said. Juan Garcia also pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree burglary and Jaimez to one count of possession for sale of methamphetamine and one count of felony child abuse.

The defendants kept some of the money for themselves; the rest went to the younger Garcia and other incarcerated gang members, the district attorney's office said.

The case has its roots in something an L.A. County Sheriff's Department homicide detective noticed on a lucky day in 2008.

As he leafed through a stack of photos, one mug shot caught his attention. He paused to stare at the photo of Anthony Garcia, who had been picked up on a minor offense. Soon it clicked: the detailed tattoo on the younger Garcia’s chest alluded to the unsolved murder of John Juarez at a liquor store a few years earlier.

Anthony Garcia eventually confessed to the murder and is serving a 65-years-to-life sentence.

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Bell corruption trial: Still no verdict after 17 days

Bell judge
Jurors in the Bell corruption trial adjourned Tuesday, again without a verdict in the trial of six former council members accused of raiding the small town's treasury by pulling down extraordinary salaries.

Wednesday will mark the 18th day of deliberations -- nearly the same length of the testimony in the trial.

Since being handed the case Feb. 22, the panel appears to have struggled to determine whether Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal misappropriated public funds by taking salaries of up to $100,000, beefed up by serving on city boards and authorities that rarely met. 

Hernandez, Jacobo and Mirabal face 20 counts while Bello faces 16. Artiga faces 12 counts;  Cole has eight. All face prison time if convicted.

Legal experts say the general rule of thumb when it comes to deliberations tends to be one day for every week of testimony. Anything longer could be a strong sign of a hung jury or a deadlock on some counts.

The four-week trial began Jan. 24.

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Photo: Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy during Bell trial. Credit: Associated Press.

 

 

Bell jury has been out nearly as long as corruption trial itself

 Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez is one of six former council members tried for corruption. The jury has now been out nearly as long as the trial lasted.
The amount of time jurors in the Bell corruption case have spent behind closed doors is approaching the length of the criminal trial for the six former council members accused in the case.

Tuesday marks the 17th day of juror deliberations, and there has been no indication that a verdict is near.

The panel of seven women and five men is attempting to determine whether Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal misappropriated public funds by taking salaries of up to $100,000, paychecks that were beefed up by serving on city boards and authorities that rarely met.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Handed the case Feb. 22, the jury appears to have struggled to determine whether the salaries, although excessive, were legal.

On Friday, jurors requested a read-back of testimony that appeared to show they were attempting to consider the defendants as individuals.

After the four-week trial, jury deliberations were slowed when a juror was dismissed for misconduct and the panel appeared deadlocked. An alternate juror was named, and since then the panel has had multiple questions and requested testimony read-backs.

Legal experts say the general rule of thumb when it comes to deliberations tends to be one day for every week of testimony. Anything longer, veteran defense attorney Paul Wallin said, is a strong sign of a hung jury or at least a deadlock on some counts.

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2 fatally stabbed, shot outside Downey sports bar

Police were investigating on Monday the fatal stabbing and shooting of two men outside a sports bar in Downey.

Officers responded about 2 a.m. Sunday to a fight and stabbing reported in the parking lot of George’s Restaurant and Bar in the 7800 block of Florence Avenue, Downey police Sgt. Jerry Massie said.

When officers arrived, they discovered two men lying in the street, both suffering from stab and gunshot wounds, Massie said. They were pronounced dead at a hospital.

The suspects, described only as men, were last seen driving west on Florence in unidentified vehicles. It was not clear how many suspects were involved nor how the fight began.

Employees said the victims had gone to Tacos Mexico, across the street from George's, to get food when, for some reason, they got into an altercation with the suspects, KTLA-TV reported.

“When officers arrived, they found two males in their early 30s suffering from both stab and gunshot wounds,” Downey police Lt. Mark McDaniel told the TV station.

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Motorcyclist killed after crashing into stopped car on 91 Freeway

A 21-year-old man was killed Sunday night after he crashed his motorcycle into a car that had stopped for another traffic collision on the 91 Freeway in Bellflower, authorities said.

Brandon Bettinger, of Covina, rear-ended the car at a "high rate of speed" about 10:35 p.m. on the westbound freeway near Downey Avenue, California Highway Patrol said. He was thrown from his bike onto the eastbound lanes, and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver of the car, identified as Harry Aguilera, 24, of Fontana, was not injured, CHP said.

Authorities said Aguilera stopped in the carpool lane for a separate traffic collision that had occurred about a minute before and was blocking the lane. Information about that crash was not immediately available.

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Two men fatally stabbed and shot outside Downey sports bar

Map shows location of where two men were found stabbed and shot in Downey. Source: Google Maps
Two men in their early 30s were fatally stabbed and shot early Sunday outside a Downey sports bar, authorities said.

Officers responded about 2 a.m. to a fight and stabbing reported in the parking lot of George’s Restaurant and Bar in the 7800 block of Florence Avenue, Downey Police Sgt. Jerry Massie said.

When officers arrived, they discovered two male victims lying in the street, both suffering from stab and gunshot wounds, Massie said. The victims were transported to a local hospital where they were pronounced dead.

The suspects, described only as males, were last seen driving west on Florence in unidentified vehicles. It was not clear how many suspects were involved nor how the fight began.

No other information was given.

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Map shows location of where two men were found stabbed and shot in Downey. Source: Google Maps

Bell trial jurors are read testimony again; still no verdict

Former Bell City Council members in court last month. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Three weeks into deliberations, jurors in the Bell corruption trial listened to more testimony read-back on Friday, but there was no indication that a verdict was close.

Six former council members in the small, working-class town are charged with misappropriating public funds by taking mammoth salaries. But jurors, who have asked several times for testimony to be read back, clearly are struggling.

On Friday, jurors listened to a testimony read-back regarding one defendant’s pay, as well as the city clerk’s testimony about slipping doctored contracts into a stack of papers to be signed by the mayor at the time.

CRISIS IN BELL: High salaries stir outrage

The panel of seven women and five men had specifically requested to hear what former councilwoman Teresa Jacobo said in her testimony about a conversation she had with then-City Administrator Robert Rizzo about working full-time for Bell.

The first defendant to testify, Jacobo said on the witness stand in February that while she was a council member, Rizzo informed her she would be able to quit her job as a real estate agent and receive a pay boost from the city.

Jurors also listened to City Clerk Rebecca Valdez’s testimony about slipping Rizzo’s doctored contracts into a stack of papers to be signed by then-Mayor Oscar Hernandez.

"The way things were run back then," Valdez testified in January, "I couldn't ask any questions."

The panel was handed the case Feb. 22, though was asked to restart its deliberations early on when a juror was removed for misconduct.

Although residents in Bell were outraged when they learned in 2010 that Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, George Mirabal, Jacobo and Hernandez had earned up to $100,000 as city officials, deliberations have dragged out longer than expected.

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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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