LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A judge on Friday cut bail nearly in half for the only former Bell city councilman to remain jailed since being arrested last September on misappropriation charges.
Two days after finding sufficient evidence to require former Councilman Victor Bello to proceed to trial, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall said he was concerned Bello’s $190,000 bail was exorbitantly higher than that of two other ex-council members
Voicing concern that Bello’s custody status was too “punitive”, Hall reduced the amount to $100,000, noting that his feelings about the “scope and seriousness of this case” have not changed since ruling Wednesday.
Hall said he wants the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to “take another look” at Bello’s housing situation, noting that he is in “what amounts to solitary confinement.”
At the prosecution’s request, the judge agreed to keep in place a restriction in which the defense has to prove that any money used toward bail was not feloniously obtained.
But as KNX 1070’s Pete Demetriou reports, defense attorney Leo J. Moriarty said he did not believe Bello would be able to come up with enough money to post the reduced $100,000 bail.
Moriarty — who had asked that his client be released on his own recognizance — said the defense’s next step could be asking a higher court to consider the issue if Bello remains jailed.
“He’s doing O.K. right now. He was feeling very depressed because of the circumstances,” Moriarty told reporters, noting that all of the others who had been arrested along with Bello last Sept. 21 were released from custody soon afterward.
Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller had asked that the $190,000 bail remain in effect, but did not argue with the judge’s ruling.
“We accept it,” the prosecutor said outside court.
Bello, 52, is awaiting arraignment March 2 along with Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal and former council members Luis Artiga and George Cole on charges that they misappropriated public funds, primarily through lofty salaries earned by serving on various boards and commissions.
Earlier this week, Hall ordered the defendants to stay at least 100 yards away from City Hall, not participate in city business and not accept any compensation from the city without prior court approval.
Meanwhile, former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, are awaiting a hearing set to begin Tuesday to determine if they will have to stand trial on charges that they misappropriated public funds.
Prosecutors contend the defendants — collectively dubbed the “Bell 8” — took part in a scheme that siphoned $5.5 million in taxpayer money from the city’s coffers, primarily from money they were paid for serving on various boards and commissions, some of which rarely conducted any substantive business.
During the preliminary hearing, defense attorneys argued that the council members were innocent victims who were caught in a witch hunt that began after news broke about the salaries of Bell officials.
Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down last July after the salary scandal broke.
The city council members, who were earning almost $100,000 a year, significantly slashed their pay, but most balked at calls for their resignations.
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