BELL (CBSLA.com) — Jurors have convicted five of the six defendants in the Bell corruption trial, but remain deadlocked on 10 charges.
Ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello were charged with misappropriation of public funds in a nearly 100-count indictment more than two years ago.
Hernandez, Jacobo and Mirabal Wednesday were each convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five other counts.
Cole and Bello were each convicted of two counts. Cole was acquitted of one count and Bello was acquitted of two.
Artiga, who was acquitted of all 12 counts of misappropriation of public funds against him, was the only defendant to be exonerated. Of the six accused, Artiga was the most recent addition to the city council.
“I said from the beginning that the truth was going to set me free,” said Artiga, who said he regrets being part of the council.
KNX 1070’s Claudia Peschiutta reports Artiga felt badly for his former colleagues who were convicted.
“I did have a certain degree of sorrow for them,” Artiga said. “I was just overwhelmed by gratitude to God for setting me free.”
Four jurors told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy that they needed further instructions to avoid deadlocks on 10 remaining counts. Kennedy then ordered all of the jurors to take a lunch break before they returned deliberation room. They went home for the day shortly before 4 p.m., but were ordered to return to court on Thursday.
The trial began on Jan. 24 with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office describing the defendants as greedy in their opening statements.
Prosecutors told jurors the ex-council members stole millions from city coffers by serving on fake boards that often convened for only minutes.
“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.
During the trial, the defendants testified that they didn’t realize what they were doing was wrong.
KNX 1070’s Mike Landa reports some people aren’t happy with all the verdicts.
Former officials blame ex-Bell city manager Robert Rizzo for orchestrating the scheme. Rizzo 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 pretrial publicity.