BELL (CBSLA.com) — The former councilman who was acquitted of all charges in the Bell corruption trial said he believed all along that the truth would set him free.
Luis Artiga, the pastor of Bell Community Church, broke down in tears in the courtroom Wednesday morning as he was read not guilty verdicts on 12 counts of misappropriation of public funds.
Now a free man, he said, “I’m going to take my wife to breakfast.”
Artiga said when he was arrested two and a half years ago he went from being an honorable man to sharing a courthouse with rapists and murderers.
“I felt like somebody was digging a grave in front of me and I was thrown alive into the grave. So when I started crying and sobbing when I heard the not guilty, it was like somebody had opened the grave,” he said.
Artiga refused to comment on his co-defendants, who prosecutors said stole millions from city coffers by serving on fake boards that often convened for only minutes, but his attorney said Artiga was acquitted because the pastor was not present when Bell leaders voted for large pay raises and fees.
Artiga has maintained all along that he thought his large paychecks (almost $100,000 a year) were a gift from God.
When asked if he would give the money back, he said, “If I had it…I think I earned it working hard for the community. If I hadn’t earned it, I wouldn’t have taken it. I was working. You can ask my family. I was never there.”
Artiga said he will never become involved in politics again.