Mixed verdicts for former Bell council members
On Wednesday, a jury found five of six former Bell, Calif., council members guilty of some of the corruption charges against them. Luis Artiga was found not guilty of 12 counts of misuse of public funds. Former city manager Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, will be tried later this year.
"Today marks the beginning of a new dawn for Bell and its residents," said Bell Mayor Ali Saleh in a statement. "We are very pleased with the outcome of today's court decision."
Former mayor Oscar Hernandez and council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were convicted of misappropriation of funds involving the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority (SWRA) and were found not guilty of five counts related to the Public Finance Authority (PFA). The jury found Victor Bello guilty of four counts related to SWRA and not guilty of another four related to PFA. George Cole was found guilty of two counts and not guilty of two others. The jury remained deadlocked on other charges against the five council members.
Also last week, the California Court of Appeal found that the state attorney general can seek restitution for the excessive compensation the council members received. In 2010, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the council members were making nearly $100,000 per year and that Rizzo was receiving nearly $800,000 annually.
Bell's new leadership has worked to bring transparency to the city government. At the beginning of the year, the city unveiled a new website focused on making operations more accessible to the public. Through a transparency tab on the site, residents can access the city budget, financial statements, investments, employee salaries and the city's electronic checkbook. The site can be translated into 64 languages using the Google Translator button. "The new City of Bell website launch is an important tool in our effort to move the city forward and enhance transparency to City Hall functions," Saleh said. The city also has started to hold quarterly town hall community meetings.