A prosecutor on Thursday accused six former City Council members in a small southeastern LA County city called Bell of stealing $1.3 million from its residents and of taking pay from city agencies for time periods when the agencies did not have any meetings.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller said during his opening statement that during an entire year a former Bell mayor and five ex-City Council members spent less time working than his opening statement would take.
This is “something that Bell City Council members dreamed up solely for the purpose of stealing money from the people of Bell,” said Miller, in a packed LA courtroom.
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The so-called "Bell 6" -- Victor Bello, Luis Artiga, George Mirabal, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Cole -- served as part-time councilmembers, each drawing city compensation of nearly a $100,000 a year, prosecutors said.
The city's former manager, Robert Rizzo and former assistant city administrator Angela Spaccia are being tried separately on suspicion of misappropriation of public funds and other counts.
Cole's defense attorney Ronald Kaye said during his opening statement on Thursday that his clients were duped by Rizzo.
"Ladies and gentlemen, guilt by association with Robert Rizzo is not how this country works," Kaye said.
Kaye said Cole stopped accepting his salary when he learned city employees were being laid off.
Alex Kessel, the attorney for Mirabal said the evidence will show he was not overpaid, with his income from the city averaging $58,000 over five years, and that he worked hard for the city.
"I'm confident can show you lawful authority for every dollar he received," Kessel said.
Top, left to right: Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole. Bottom, left to right: Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Oscar Hernandez