Six current and former Bell city officials were ordered Wednesday to stand trial on charges of misappropriating public funds, primarily through lofty salaries earned by serving on various boards and commissions.
Mayor Oscar Hernandez, City Council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, and former council members Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello are accused of taking part in a scam that siphoned $5.5 million in taxpayer money from the city's coffers.
They are all due to be arraigned March 2.
After a seven-day preliminary hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry Hall ruled there was sufficient evidence to order the six to stand trial. A preliminary hearing will begin Tuesday for former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, who are facing similar charges.
Rizzo is also charged with conflict of interest and misappropriation of records in a separate case, for which the preliminary hearing is expected to take about a day. Another brief hearing will also be held on additional charges against Hernandez and Artiga.
The so-called "Bell 8" were arrested Sept. 21 on allegations that they bilked taxpayers through hefty salaries, benefits and illicit loans of public money.
Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down last July after the salary scandal broke.
The City Council members, who were earning almost $100,000 a year, significantly slashed their pay, but most balked at calls for their resignations. Artiga announced last October that he was leaving his post, saying, "it's in the best interest for the city of Bell that I resign."
During the preliminary hearing, defense attorneys argued in part that the council members were innocent victims who were caught in a witch hunt that began after news broke about the salaries of Bell officials.
In total, the defendants are charged as follows:
The 56-year-old Rizzo, meanwhile, is charged with 53 felony counts, including 44 counts of misappropriation of public funds between July 1, 2005, and July 22, 2010; six counts of falsification of public records by an official custodian; and three counts of conflict of interest. The charges include an allegation that he "took, damaged and destroyed property of a value exceeding $2.5 million."
Spaccia, 52, is charged with four felony counts of misappropriation of public funds between July 1, 2005, and July 22, 2010. The criminal complaint alleges that she took more than $1.3 million.