LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A judge Thursday rejected a defense motion to dismiss charges against six former Bell city leaders charged with misappropriation of public funds.
Attorneys for former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and ex-City Council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello argued that a state Supreme Court decision involving a Northern California official charged with mishandling public funds bolstered their case for dismissal.
The high court held in its August decision that prosecutors in public corruption cases must prove that defendants knew they were breaking the law, or were criminally negligent in not knowing.
But in rejecting the defense motion, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy wrote that there is “ample probable cause” to believe the Bell defendants knew they were acting criminally when they allegedly looted the city’s treasury, or “should have known that their conduct was illegal.”
Cole’s attorney, Ron Kaye, vowed to appeal Kennedy’s ruling.
“We are disappointed,” he said outside court, “but we think the legal issues are in our favor and the appeals court will rule accordingly.”
Attorneys for the defendants argue that Bell voters authorized their allegedly outlandish salaries when a 2005 ballot measure was approved declaring Bell a charter city. According to the defense, officials of charter cities are not bound by state laws capping the salaries of council members.
Kennedy said a trial date for the six defendants in court Thursday — along with former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his former assistant, Angela Spaccia — would be set Feb. 2.
The alleged ringleader, Rizzo, is charged with more than 50 counts of fraud, including 44 counts of misappropriation of public funds, six counts of falsification of records by an official custodian, three counts of conflict of interest and one count of public officer crime.
Spaccia faces five counts of misappropriation of public funds, plus conflict of interest counts.
Rizzo was earning nearly $1.5 million in total compensation in one of the poorest towns in the county.
Kennedy wrote in her ruling that “resolutions passed by the City Council setting compensation levels and regularly raising the level of compensation were without the authority of law.”
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