Former mayor convicted in California corruption trial

Oscar Hernandez, former mayor of Bell, Calif., listens to closing arguments in a massive city corruption trial in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Feb. 20, 2013.
Oscar Hernandez, former mayor of Bell, Calif., listens to closing arguments in his corruption trial in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Feb. 20, 2013
File, AP Photo/Los Angeles Times

(CBS/AP) LOS ANGELES - Oscar Hernandez, the former mayor of the tiny Los Angeles County city of Bell, was convicted Tuesday of five charges in a massive corruption case against him and five other former elected officials.

Hernandez was also acquitted of five charges in verdicts read in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Hernandez, former Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, and former council members George Mirabal, George Cole, Victor Bello and Luis Artiga, were charged with misappropriating funds by paying themselves inflated salaries of up to $100,000 a year. All except Artiga served as mayor at some point.

An audit by the state controller's office found that the city illegally raised property taxes, business license fees and other sources of revenue to pay the salaries. The office ordered the money repaid.

A lawyer for Hernandez said during the trial that his client was unschooled, illiterate and not the type of "scholar" who understood the city's finances.

"We elect people who have a good heart. Someone who can listen to your problems and look you in the eye," attorney Stanley Friedman said.

The defendants allegedly took part in the scam with former city manager Robert Rizzo. City records revealed that Rizzo had an annual salary and compensation package worth $1.5 million, making him one of the highest paid administrators in the country.

His salary alone was about $800,000 a year, double that of the president of the United States.

Prosecutors said that in order for Rizzo to fund his and other officials' salaries, he masterminded a scheme to loot the treasury of $5.5 million. He and his assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia, face their own trial later in the year.

Witnesses at the former council members' trial depicted Rizzo as a micro manager who convinced the city's elected officials that they too deserved huge salaries.

He was said to have manipulated council members into signing major financial documents, particularly Hernandez who could not read what he was signing.

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