Judge Declares Mistrial on Remainder of Bell Corruption Charges

Jurors had remained undecided on 42 counts

By Olsen Ebright and Melissa Pamer
|  Thursday, Mar 21, 2013  |  Updated 10:16 PM PDT
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A mistrial on remaining corruption counts in the Bell corruption case brought the marathon trial to an end Thursday. The judge made the stunning announcement after a juror noted they were having second thoughts about Wednesday's verdicts. Patrick Healy reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. on March 21, 2013.

Patrick Healy

A mistrial on remaining corruption counts in the Bell corruption case brought the marathon trial to an end Thursday. The judge made the stunning announcement after a juror noted they were having second thoughts about Wednesday's verdicts. Patrick Healy reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. on March 21, 2013.

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A mistrial was declared late Thursday afternoon on the remaining charges against five former Bell elected officials already convicted of misappropriating public funds by collecting exorbitant salaries.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy ruled that further deliberations would not break a deadlock on the 42 remaining charges.

"It seems to me that all hell has broken loose in the jury deliberation room," she said.

The defendants were convicted Wednesday on misappropriation counts relating to the city's Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, but acquitted on counts related to the Public Housing Authority.

Prosecutors had said the boards rarely met, calling Bell a city upended by a "culture of corruption."

The jury had split 9-3 on 42 remaining charges related to pay for service on two additional boards.

Four female jurors said they felt more instructions from the judge might help break the deadlock. Kennedy asked the panel to submit specific questions and sent jurors back into the deliberation room.

Several notes followed, with jurors asking for more information and eventually asking whether the judge intended to give them any more instructions beyond what they had already received.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, the panel sent the note indicating it remained deadlocked -- still on the 9-3 vote, with nine jurors favoring conviction.

Former Councilman George Mirabal, one of the defendants, on Thursday told news media he was grateful to the three jurors who favored acquittal.

"I look back at the last two years -- it's been an ordeal," Mirabal said. "I'm hoping that people understand that there was an immense amount of work done by the council in the city of Bell, and that we were never part-time employees of the city. We considered ourselves full-time employees of the city."

Kennedy set another hearing for April 23, when the defendants will be sentenced and prosecutors will announce whether they plan to seek a retrial on the remaining counts.

On Wednesday, the jury had reached the following conclusions:

  • Ex-mayor Oscar Hernandez: guilty on five counts; not guilty on five counts. No verdict on 10 counts.
  • Former Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo: guilty on five counts; not guilty on five counts. No verdict on 10 counts.
  • Former Councilman George Mirabal: guilty on five counts; not guilty on five counts. No verdict on 10 counts.
  • Former Councilman Victor Bello: guilty on four counts; not guilty on four counts. No verdict on eight counts.
  • Former Councilman George Cole: guilty of two counts; not guilty on two counts. No verdict on four counts.

Former Councilman Luis Artiga was acquitted on all 12 charges he faced.

The mistrial leaves uncertainty for the five defendants who were convicted, and their lawyers indicated they would challenge the convictions in part because of jury notes exposing uncertainty during deliberations.

Defense attorney Ronald Kaye said Thursday that the jury had faced extraordinary scrutiny.

"You can only imagine what these jurors were going through because of the pressure based on you guys being in the courtroom every single day," Kaye told news media. "They knew the world was watching them."

Former City Manager Robert Rizzo, 59, who is accused of being the mastermind of the alleged corruption scheme, is awaiting trial separately, along with former assistant Angela Spaccia, 54, on related charges.

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