LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Opening statements were heard Thursday morning in the trial of Bell’s ex-Mayor, Oscar Hernandez, and five former city council members.
Hernandez and ex-council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello are all accused of misappropriating public funds in a 20-count complaint.
Prosecutors allege they looted the city treasury to pay themselves six-figure salaries.
“The evidence will show these defendants stole over $1.3 million from the citizens of Bell,” Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller said in his opening argument.
Defense attorneys contend the former mayor and council members spent significant time working on city issues despite some council meetings lasting only minutes.
“These people are honest and they are law-abiding and the D.A.’s evidence is weak,” Cole’s attorney Ronald Kay told KNX 1070.
Defense attorneys maintain the corruption only existed in the office of former City Manager Robert Rizzo and not in the council chamber.
A 12-member jury and six alternates were chosen Wednesday.
Rizzo, the accused ringleader of the alleged effort, and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia also face fraud charges and will be tried separately.
A trial date has been set for April 1, but Rizzo’s lawyer asked for a change of venue due to pre-trial publicity.