Bell trial: Lengthy jury deliberations favor defense, lawyer says
The jury of seven women and five men will continue their deliberations in the Bell corruption trial on Wednesday for a ninth day.
Six former Bell City Council members have been accused of misappropriating public funds. The trial included four weeks of testimony that ended Feb. 22.
Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal could be sentenced to prison if convicted.
Stanley L. Friedman, attorney for former Mayor Hernandez, said the lengthy deliberations bodes well for his client.
"I'm actually feeling very positive about it," Friedman said. "I think the time interval indicates the jury is considering the issues very seriously, which I think should favor the defense."
Jury deliberations were slowed last week by an apparent deadlock and the removal of one juror or misconduct. After an alternate was named on Thursday, the panel was instructed to act as if the nearly five days of earlier discussion had not taken place.
The jury must decide whether it was legal for the defendants to boost their salaries by serving on city boards that rarely met.
The former council members were paid up to $100,000 for part-time jobs in a city where, according to prosecutors, council members could earn only $8,076,
The oversized salaries in Bell were exposed in 2010, and authorities allege the city's then-chief executive, Robert Rizzo, illegally padded his nearly $800,000 paycheck. Much of the blame has been placed on Rizzo, whom defense attorneys painted as a scheming and ruthless manager. The trial of Rizzo and Angela Spaccia, the assistant city administrative officer, is expected to begin later this year.
The defense insisted throughout the trial that Bell's charter, passed in a 2005 special election in which fewer than 400 people voted, allowed their clients to be paid extra for these boards. They also argued that the extensive work the defendants did on the boards was not reflected in the notes taken at meetings and that the prosecution had failed to prove criminal negligence -- that their clients knew what they were doing was wrong or that a reasonable person should have known.
The prosecution, however, cast the six as thieves who built rapport with constituents only to help line their pockets.
"A liquor store robber's weapon is a gun," the prosecutor told the jury during his closing statement. "The weapon of the white-collar criminal is the trust he or she has gained over a number of years that allows them to occupy positions of elevated trust where they can steal a large amount of money."
-- Corina Knoll
Photo: Former Bell council members Luis Artiga, left, Teresa Jacobo, George Cole and Oscar Hernandez stand as their trial breaks for lunch on Feb. 20 in Los Angeles. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times