LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge refused Thursday to dismiss a corruption case against five former Bell City Council members charged with misappropriating funds to overpay themselves.

Evidence presented during a preliminary hearing provided probable cause that the defendants in the case should have known their conduct was illegal, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy wrote in her ruling.

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The ex-elected officials for the city of 40,000 people had argued in their motion to dismiss that voters approved a ballot measure making Bell a charter city that gave them authority to collect close to $100,000 a year.

Charter city or not, Kennedy ruled that Bell is located in the state of California and subject to its laws.

“Taken to its extreme, the defense (for defendants) basically asserts that because the city of Bell is a ‘charter city,’ that the defendants could take any actions they wanted with no repercussions,” Kennedy wrote. “The city of Bell charter did not make Bell a sovereign nation not subject to the general penal laws of the state of California.”

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The defendants in the case are Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, George Cole, Victor Bello and Luis Artiga.

Former City Manager Robert Rizzo has pleaded not guilty to similar charges.

Prosecutors contend that Rizzo had an annual salary and compensation package worth $1.5 million and masterminded a scheme to loot the city of Bell of more than $6 million.

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