Last ex-city official sentenced in corruption case
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The last of seven former city officials involved in a multimillion-dollar corruption case in the tiny Los Angeles suburb of Bell, California, was sentenced Friday to a year in jail, most of which he has already served.
The sentencing of former Councilman Victor Bello marked the end of the largest corruption case in Los Angeles history, according to prosecutors who spent four years taking it through the courts.
Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who presided over the Bell trials, acknowledged that Bello was less culpable than other defendants, who were arrested in 2010 after it was discovered they were illegally diverting millions of taxpayer dollars to pay themselves huge salaries, a scheme that nearly bankrupted the blue-collar city.
Prosecutors said the scam cost Bell more than $5.5 million and drove a city where more than a quarter of the residents live below the federal poverty line to the brink of bankruptcy.
Bello was sentenced to one year in county jail but was given credit for 340 days of time served while awaiting trial. He was placed on five years of probation, ordered to do 500 hours of community service and must pay restitution of $177,600.
A prosecutor who argued for a four-year prison term said he was glad the case was over.
"Hopefully now the people of Bell can move forward and begin to heal," Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett said outside court. But he expressed disappointment that Bello did not get the maximum four-year sentence agreed upon when the defendants entered no-contest pleas.
None of the five former council members were hit with the top sentence. All received some prison time, except for one councilman, who received 180 days of home confinement with an ankle monitor.
All were ordered to pay six figure restitution amounts to the city, but whether they would be able to comply with that was uncertain. Bello's lawyer said he is indigent. Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez is living in a trailer, and prosecutors said they would try to seize property he owns.
The judge said she hopes Bello can make restitution, but "the people have not demonstrated that he has some vast amount of money that he's squirrelled away."
Bello's attorney, Leo Moriarty, said his client is on disability due to a significant depression and other psychological problems which render him "unemployable." He said Bello was on suicide watch during his entire time in jail.
The judge ordered the 56-year-old Bello to seek schooling and employment.
In a sentencing memorandum, Moriarty offered a letter from a Bell police sergeant who helped expose the financial scandal. "The person who assisted me relentlessly and courageously was Victor Bello," the sergeant said.
But Hassett, the prosecutor, noted that Bello, who earned $434 a month as a councilman in 1998, was receiving $100,000 a year when he resigned.
In her remarks from the bench, the judge placed heavy blame on former City Manager Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, calling them "the architects" of the financial scam. Rizzo is serving 12 years in prison and was ordered to pay $8.8 million restitution. Spaccia is serving a sentence of 11 years and eight months and must pay $8.2 million restitution to the city.
Others under sentence are Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and former council members George Mirabal, Cole and Hernandez, convicted of stealing nearly $1 million.