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Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 6:25am
LOS ANGELES — Opening statements began Thursday in the corruption trials of six former city council members of Bell, California, who are accused of receiving exorbitant salaries for no work and turning taxpayer money into a personal "piggy bank," officials said.
The six former council members are named in a 20-count complaint accusing them of misappropriating about $1.2 million in public funds.
The six are being tried in a Los Angeles County courtroom: former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello, said spokeswoman Jane Robison of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Also charged in the corruption case are former City Manager Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, whose trials have yet to be scheduled, Robison said.
Together, the eight defendants are charged with misappropriating more than $5.5 million, including being paid for phantom committee meetings and making illegal personal loans.
Former District Attorney Steve Cooley had called the case a "feeding frenzy of corruption by Bell officials." He filed the charges in 2010; he retired last year.
Each of the so-called Bell Eight have pleaded not guilty, authorities said.
Prosecutors have alleged that the six ex-council members, as well as the two other former city officials, turned the city treasury into "their own piggy bank, which they looted at will."
Between 2006 and 2010, they "illegally gamed the system to receive ridiculous salaries for doing no work" and were paid nearly $8,000 a month for meetings on four boards that never took place or lasted just a few minutes, prosecutors have alleged.
Those boards were the Solid Waste Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Finance Authority and Community Housing Authority, authorities said.
Bell, a city of 36,000, is about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.