Testimony Begins In Bell Fraud Trial
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Testimony began Friday morning in the fraud trial of Bell’s ex-Mayor, Oscar Hernandez, and five former city council members.
Prosecutors called City Clerk Rebecca Valdez to testify against Hernandez and ex-council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello. The six are all accused of misappropriating public funds in a 20-count complaint.
Prosecutors allege they began looting the city treasury in 2006 to pay themselves six-figure salaries.
Opening statements were heard Thursday when the District Attorney’s Office described the defendants as greedy.
Prosecutors told jurors the ex-council members stole millions from city coffers by serving on fake boards.
“It’s something that Bell City Council members dreamed up solely for the purpose of stealing money from the people of Bell,” prosecutor Edward Miller said.
Testifying under the grant of immunity, Valdez said Friday she would record when the boards and commissions met and for how long. She said some sessions lasted only minutes.
Valdez also testified documents that created the inflated salaries and commission fees were all voted on by the council and appeared in the minutes they were given.
Defense attorneys maintain the corruption only existed in the office of former City Manager Robert Rizzo and not in the council chamber.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this was not a money grab,” the defense said.
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.