The third of five former Bell city officials convicted of misappropriating public funds through inflated salaries was sentenced Friday to prison and ordered to pay restitution in what was the most serious penalty handed down so far against the defendants.
Former City Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo, 61, was sentenced to two years is prison and ordered to pay $242,000 in restitution for her role in the pay scandal that outraged resident of the community south of downtown Los Angeles.
Jacobo was convicted in March 2013 along with former council members George Mirabal and former Mayor Oscar Hernandez of five counts and acquitted of five others. Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while former Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said Jacobo, who has a background in real estate, was in a different position than the other former council members.
"She should have known more than the other defendants because of the experience she had in real property law," Kennedy said.
The judge also said she didn't believe Jacobo's apology was sincere, adding that she had a "defiant attitude."
The five pleaded no contest April 9 to two felony counts each of misappropriation of public funds in a plea deal -- charges on which jurors had deadlocked -- to resolve the case against them. Jurors exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 charges against him.
Mirabal, 64, was the first of the five to be sentenced July 11. He was ordered to serve a year in county jail, five years probation, 1,000 hours of community service and nearly $243,000 in restitution to the city, rejecting the prosecution's request of a four-year state prison term.
Cole, 64, was sentenced Wednesday to 180 days of home confinement with electronic monitoring, along with 1,000 hours of community service, five years probation and more than $77,000 in restitution to the city. The judge went along with the defense's request for no additional jail time for Cole, who was given credit for two days already served behind bars following his arrest.
As with Mirabal and Cole, the prosecution asked for a four-year state prison term for Jacobo.
Jacobo's family members and supporters reacted to the judge's annoucement, with one woman screaming obscenities in the courtroom after the hearing, according to City News Service. Her attorney, Leo J. Moriarty, asked the judge to sentence the former councilwoman to five years probation and a significant amount of community service, along with the restitution being requested by the prosecution. But he urged the judge not to impose any time behind bars.
"Ms. Jacobo is not an evil person at all. She did not go in with the intent to do anything wrong," Moriarty told the judge.
The defendants were all accused of taking in lavish salaries while doing little, if any, work on boards that rarely met. Jacobo earned $434 per month when she was first appointed to the council in 2001. Just four years later, her salary was $62,000 per year.
She and other council members illegally boosted their pay at the taxpayers' expense, according to prosecutors.
"While Ms. Jacobo's sentence of two years in state prison won't make up for all of the harm she caused, it at least offers the people of Bell some measure of justice," said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Sean Hasset.
Upcoming sentences are scheduled for Hernandez on July 31 and Bello on Aug. 1.
The former council members are being sentenced separately from two figures considered key players in the scandal -- former city manager Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia. Rizzo was sentenced April 16 to 12 years in state prison and ordered to repay $8.8 million in restitution to the city. Spaccia was sentenced to 11 years, eight months in state prison and ordered to pay more than $8.2 million in restitution to the city.