The 36,000-person town of Bell, Calif., once had a city manager earning twice as much as the U.S. president, despite a quarter of the population living in poverty. Now, five former town council members have been found guilty of a slew of offenses after 18 days of jury deliberations.
Robert Rizzo, the former city manager, was characterized during the trial as the ringleader of the alleged fraud by the defendants, who claimed they were kept in the dark about city business.
Jurors didn't buy the argument, finding the five defendants each guilty of several felony charges of "misappropriation of public funds" for payment received as members of Bell's solid waste and recycling authority. The defendants were each found not guilty of charges relating to their service on the town's public financing authority.
A sixth defendant, Luis Artiga, was found not guilty of 12 charges brought against him. He sobbed in court as the verdicts were read.
The jury deadlocked on several charges, and the judge instructed them to renew deliberations after four of 12 jurors said they believed the deadlock could be broken.
The six former officials were accused of inflating their salaries by serving on bogus boards. During the trial in January, the Los Angeles Times reported, Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller noted that "Agendas for each [agency meeting] had one item. Pay raises."
Rizzo—who earned a salary of around $800,000 and enjoyed an annual compensation package of $1.5 million—will be tried later this year, along with his former assistant Angela Spaccia. Rizzo and his colleagues were busted by the Times in July 2010 when an article exposed the enormous salaries. Bell is located within Los Angeles County.
Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal—the five convicted Wednesday—were arrested in September 2010.
Flashback: Furious residents protest corruption: