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Calif. city of Bell convicts 5 officials in corruption case

A jury convicted five former elected officials for inflating their salaries in a city where 1 in 4 residents live in poverty.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20: Luis Artiga reacts after being acquitted on all charges in the Bell corruption trial March 20, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Five former Bell City Council members, Victor Bello, Oscar Hernandez, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, were found guilty of stealing public money by paying themselves extraordinary salaries in one of Los Angeles County's poorest cities. Luis Artiga, the only of the six defendants who was acquitted on all charges, was released by the judge. (Irfan Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES -- After weeks of deliberations a jury in Bell, Calif. convicted five former city officials of corruption for inflating their salaries.

The officials were accused of accepting exorbitant salaries for serving on various boards and commissions in Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County where one in four residents lives in poverty.

A sixth official, a minister, was acquitted on all of the charges.

KPCC reports that former Bell council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal and ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez were each convicted of five felony counts and acquitted of five others.

A self proclaimed "whistleblower", Victor Bello, was convicted of four counts and George Cole of two counts.

All of the felony counts could carry jail time.

Minister Luis Artiga wiped away tears as he learned he was the only defendant acquitted on each charge he faced.

"I want to thank God," the pastor told the Los Angeles Times.

"I want to thank my family. I said from the beginning the truth will set me free."

The charges against the six defendants stem from accusations they paid themselves salaries of up to $100,000 a year, padded with payments for serving on boards that rarely met, reports USA Today. 

The state controller's office also found that city officials used illegal property tax increases and business license fees to pay the salaries.

"While today’s guilty ruling for five of the Bell Six helps bring some closure and justice to our community, there are still trial cases which remain pending — the trials of those remaining assailants that in my view plundered our City’s resources and shackled Bell’s hardworking families with an overwhelming tax burden," Bell City Mayor Ali Saleh told KPCC.

Former city manager Robert Rizzo, who reportedly had an annual salary of $800,000, is still awaiting his corruption trial, reports the LA Times.

Rizzo and his assistant Angela Spaccia, who earned more than $400,000 annually, face trial on a variety of counts related to misappropriation of funds.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/130320/calif-city-bell-convicts-5-officials-corruption-