Bell officials ordered to stand trial

BELL - Four current and two former Bell City Council members were ordered Wednesday to stand trial on charges they misappropriated millions of dollars from city taxpayers, including being paid for phantom committee meetings and making illegal personal loans.Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall ruled after a preliminary hearing that lasted just over a week that there is sufficient evidence against the defendants for the case to move to trial. A new charging document - called Information - will be filed and the defendants are due back in Los Angeles Superior Court Department 100 on March 2 for arraignment. In an early evening court session, the judge outlined his ruling in detail, also finding there was sufficient evidence presented for allegations that the amounts purportedly taken by the defendants were excessive. When he announced charges against the council members, along with a separate case against the former city manager and assistant city manager and two council members, District Attorney Steve Cooley said more than $5.5 million was taken from city coffers. "We are alleging they used the tax dollars collected from the hard-working citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they looted at will," the District Attorney said. In ordering the defendants to stand trial, Hall noted that four of the six remain on the Bell City Council. Terming it "a matter of grave public safety to the people of Bell," the judge ordered that all defendants stay at least 100 yards away from City Hall, that they not conduct city business and that they not receive any money from the city unless approved by the court. Ordered to stand trial were current council members Oscar Cantu Hernandez, 63; Teresa Jacobo, 53; George Gregory Mirabal, 61; and Victor Antonio Bello, 52; and former council members Luis Antonio Artiga, 50 -- who resigned last year after he was charged; and George Wendell Cole Jr., 61. Hernandez, Jacobo, Mirabal and Bello are charged with misappropriation of public funds in all 20 counts of the criminal complaint filed against them last September. Cole was charged in eight counts ending in 2007. Artiga was charged in 12 counts beginning in 2008. Bello is the only defendant remaining in custody and a bail hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning before Judge Hall. Next week -- on Feb. 22 -- the second case against the former city manager, Robert Adrian Rizzo, 57; Pier Angela Spaccia, 52, the former assistant city manager; and Artiga and Hernandez is scheduled to get under way before Judge Hall. They too are charged with misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. The cases are being prosecuted by the District Attorney's Public Integrity Division. Deputy District Attorney Edward A. Miller was the lead prosecutor for the preliminary hearing that ended Wednesday.

********** Published: February 17, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 44