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Corruption Trial Begins in Los Angeles for Six of the Bell Eight

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Trial began on Thursday with opening statements in the corruption case against six former city council members of Bell, California. The council members are accused of receiving exorbitant salaries for no work and turning taxpayer money into a personal “piggy bank.”

Council members include: former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole, and Victor Bello. Former City Manager Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia are also charged in the corruption case, but their trials have yet to be scheduled.

The six former council members are named in a 20-count complaint accusing them of misappropriating about $1.2 million in public funds. In total, the 8 defendants are charged with misappropriating more than $5.5 million.  Each defendant, referred to as the Bell Eight, has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors allege that the six ex-council members currently on trial, as well as the two others, turned the city treasury into “their own piggy bank, which they looted at will.”  From 2006 to 2010, they “illegally gamed the system to receive ridiculous salaries for doing no work” and were paid nearly $8,000 a month for meetings on four boards that never took place or lasted just a few minutes. The boards referred to are the Solid Waste Authority, the Surplus Property Authority, the Public Finance Authority, and the Community Housing Authority.

Bell is about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles and has a population of about 36,000. The city is now making efforts towards promoting transparency in hopes of rebuilding public trust. The new city officials post the city’s checkbook on a renewed city website. The city’s new mayor, Ali Saleh is focused on “moving the city forward.” He says council members are no longer making $100,000 a year. He has no problem telling anyone what his W-2 says – $8,130.12 – his salary for last year. Current council members now make $673 a month.

The city still faces serious litigation as a result of the scandal. There are several lawsuits that have been filed against the city, including one by Rizzo and the former police chief, who was making more than $400,000 a year.

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