Ex-Bell Council Member Sentenced in Corruption Scandal

Former Bell Councilman George Mirabal is the first former Bell City Council member to be sentenced in the corruption scandal

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Former Bell council member George Mirabal looks over some documents on the opening day of closing arguments session on February 20, 2013 in Los Angeles.

    One of five former city council members involved in a public corruption scandal that outraged a community south of downtown Los Angeles will be placed on probation and serve one year in jail after pleading no contest to two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds.

    Former Bell Councilman George Mirabal, 64, faced up to four years in state prison for receiving a $100,000 per year salary that prosecutors called "a drastic  departure from the expected pay of an honest council member whose sole goal is  public service." At his sentencing Friday, he received five years probation and was ordered to serve one year in jail, according to City News Service.

    Mirabal also most perform 1,000  hours of community service and pay more than $242,000 in restitution. The judge suspended a four-year prison term against Mirabal, who will not have to serve  any of that time as long as successfully completes the terms of his probation.

    He is set to surrender to begin serving his jail term July 25.

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    Ex-top Bell city official Robert Rizzo apologizes for deceiving the public during his time as a leader in the community southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Raw video from Rizzo's Wednesday April 16, 2014 sentencing. (Published Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014)

    Mirabal and his colleagues pleaded no contest in April to the misappropriation of public funds charges and accepted a plea deal on the remaining corruption charges.

    Mirabal, former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former Councilwoman  Teresa Jacobo were each convicted in March 2013 of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others. Ex-Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted  of four others.

    Jurors deadlocked on a handful of counts against the five, with the  prosecution announcing in May 2013 that it intended to retry those charges. The  plea deals reached earlier this year resolved the remaining counts, eliminating  the need for another trial.

    Jurors exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 charges  against him.

    In a sentencing memorandum, Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett urged  the maximum four-year term allowed under the plea deal, writing that the court. The case represents an extreme case of public corruption, he said.

    "Defendant Mirabal's illegal $100,000 a year salary was a drastic  departure from the expected pay of an honest council member whose sole goal is  public service, a goal that appears to have never been shared by defendant  Mirabal and his co-defendants," Hassett wrote in the sentencing memorandum. "Given his history of nearly 20 years as a council member, city clerk  and mayor of Bell, defendant Mirabal was aware of his obligations as a  fiduciary for the city, but instead acted in his own

    The prosecution is also seeking restitution of at least $242,293 for the  city of Bell.self-interest to the  detriment of the people of Bell."

    In his sentencing memorandum, defense attorney Alex R. Kessel asked the  judge to sentence Mirabal to probation and community service. He called Mirabal's an "aberration" in what was an otherwise exemplary career as a public servant.

    Mirabal is the first former City Council member to be sentenced in  connection with the corruption scandal, with Hernandez, Jacobo, Bello and Cole - - who are also facing a term between probation and four years in prison -- set  to be sentenced within the next month. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who will sentence the  five former council members, noted earlier this year that they would be  precluded from running for public office again.

    During their trials, the ex-city council members were accused of sitting on boards that rarely met, but still received triple-digit salaries. But it was the city's top administrator, Robert Rizzo, who became the face of the scandal after the Los Angeles Times reported he was giving himself an annual salary and benefits package of $1.5 million.

    An audit by the state controller's office found Bell illegally raised property taxes, business license fees, sewage fees and trash collection fees; illegally diverted gas taxes and other state and federal funds; and issued $50 million in voter-approved municipal bonds for a public park that was never built.  A good portion of that money, auditors found, went into the lucrative salaries and pensions that Rizzo and other top officials collected.

    Rizzo pleaded no contest in October to all 69 charges against him and was sentenced April 17 to 12 years in prison. He was ordered to pay $8.8 million in restitution.

    His assistant, Angela Spaccia, was convicted in December of 11 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. Jurors acquitted her  of one count of secretion of a public record involving former Bell Police Chief  Randy Adams' employment contract, and deadlocked on another count --  misappropriation of public funds involving an alleged $75,500 loan of taxpayer  money in 2003 -- that was eventually dismissed.