Pending Retrial, Judge Refuses To Set Sentencing Date For Convicted Bell City Officials
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to set a sentencing date Monday for five former elected officials in Bell, who were convicted of bilking the town of about 35,000 people.
Judge Kathleen Kennedy suggested that sentencing could be delayed until former Bell mayor Oscar Hernandez and ex-City Council members George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, George Cole, and Victor Bello are retired on certain charges.
“The sentence might be different, depending on how many counts are involved,” Kennedy said.
All three had been convicted in March of misappropriating public funds by collecting extravagant salaries. Jurors, however, deadlocked on a number of counts, and Kennedy declared a mistrial on those charges.
Prosecutors are prepared to retry all five counts, arguing Tuesday that sentencing would expedite any potential appeal on the first set of charges, and allow for a more efficient overall process.
Kennedy, however, rejected what she called a “piecemeal approach” and instead set a date for another pretrial hearing on Oct. 4, with an eye toward a second trial sometime next year.
The possibility of a years-long appeals process was also raised.
“Who’s to say the California Supreme Court won’t be involved,” Kennedy asked, taking note that an appeal to the state’s highest court may take four years to resolve.
Hernandez, Jacobo, and Mirabal were each convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and were acquitted of five others on March 20. Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.
Former Councilman Luis Artiga was completely exonerated of all 12 counts against him by the panel.
Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller told jurors during the trial that the officials misappropriated public funds by collecting unlawful salaries for sitting on four city boards — the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority, and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority — that rarely met.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, maintained that their clients were wrongly accused, arguing that they worked earnestly for the city, and that they earned their salaries.
Former City Manager Robert Rizzo, accused of being the mastermind behind the alleged corruption scheme, awaits a separate trial, along with former assistant Angela Spaccia.
Defense attorney’s in Rizzo’s case are arguing for a change of venue, and a hearing on the matter is set for Aug. 28.
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