A judge in California rejected a motion for dismissal by former Bell City Council officials, writing that there is “ample probable cause” to believe that the officials knew they were breaking the law, or they “should have known that their conduct was illegal” when they allegedly inflated their salaries.
In a 10-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy rejected arguments by the former officials, who argued that they did not know they were breaking the law by receiving salaries as high as $100,000 for part-time positions. Being a public official in the city, Kennedy wrote, was “somewhat akin to winning the lottery.”
George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, Luis Artiga, Victor Bello and George Mirabal are accused of using taxpayer money to inflate their salaries for serving on city boards that rarely met, salaries that had reached almost $1500 a month for each of the city’s four boards by the time of their arrests in 2010.
Kennedy describes in her ruling how, when they did meet, “the majority of their meetings involved passing resolutions increasing their pay.”
“These resolutions,” she said, “were cast in a manner that it would be difficult if not impossible for a citizen of Bell to even realize that their net effect was to increase the compensation of council members.”
The six former officials also argued that their salaries were protected by a provision in the City’s charter, which according to the Los Angeles Times “was adopted in a little-noticed election that drew only several hundred voters” in 2005.
“Taken to its extreme, the defense (for defendants) basically asserts that because the city of Bell is a ‘charter city,’ that the defendants could take any actions they wanted with no repercussions,” Kennedy wrote in her ruling. “The city of Bell Charter did not make Bell a sovereign nation not subject to the general penal laws of the state of California.”
The trial for the six defendants — and former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his former assistant, Angela Spaccia — will begin February 2nd.