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Ex-Bell City Councilman sentenced to two years in prison

 

Credit: Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Former Bell City Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo was sentenced to two years in prison today for misappropriating public funds through inflated salaries for sitting on city boards that rarely met, despite two of her co-defendants receiving primarily probation for similar offenses.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said Jacobo, who has a background in real estate, was in a different position than the other former council members.

``She should have known more than the other defendants because of the experience she had in real property law,'' Kennedy said.

The judge also said she didn't believe Jacobo's apology was sincere, adding that she had a ``defiant attitude.''

Kennedy also ordered Jacobo to pay more than $242,000 in restitution. She must surrender on Aug. 25 to begin serving her prison time.

The prison sentence sparked outrage among Jacobo's family and supporters, at least one of whom could be heard screaming in the hallway outside court.

Jacobo, 61, was convicted in March 2013 along with former council members George Mirabal and former Mayor Oscar Hernandez of five counts and acquitted of five others.

Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while former Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.

The five pleaded no contest April 9 to two felony counts each of misappropriation of public funds in a plea deal -- charges on which jurors had deadlocked -- to resolve the case against them.

Jurors exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 charges against him.

Mirabal, 64, was the first of the five to be sentenced July 11, receiving one year in county jail, five years probation, 1,000 hours of community service and nearly $243,000 in restitution to the city. Prosecutors had requested a four-year prison term.

Her surrendered to begin serving his jail term today.

Cole, 64, was sentenced Wednesday to 180 days of home confinement with electronic monitoring, along with 1,000 hours of community service, five years probation and more than $77,000 in restitution to the city. The judge went along with the defense's request for no additional jail time for Cole, who was given credit for two days already served behind bars following his arrest.

As with Mirabal and Cole, prosecutors also asked for a four-year state prison term for Jacobo.

In a sentencing memorandum, Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett wrote that Jacobo ``abused the trust of the people of Bell, and left the city deeply in debt, all to serve her own greedy self-interest.''

``Defendant Jacobo outrageously and illegally compensated herself so that she could `work' full-time for the people of Bell. However, she was not `working' at all for the people of Bell. She was only `working' for herself,'' the prosecutor wrote.

Jacobo's new attorney, Leo J. Moriarty, asked the judge to sentence the former councilwoman to five years probation and a significant amount of community service, along with the restitution being requested by the prosecution. But he urged the judge not to impose any time behind bars.

In his sentencing memorandum, Moriarty wrote that Jacobo ``truly never had previous knowledge that her actions were illegal'' and ``had absolutely no intent to violate the law,'' but that she accepts responsibility for her actions and is ``remorseful for her failures in her duties to the city of Bell.''

During the trial, prosecutors contended that the council members were paid illegal salaries for sitting on four city boards that rarely met, with their salaries reaching $100,000 in a city that was 2 1/2 square miles and where the median household income was $35,000.

Defense attorneys countered during the trial that their clients were wrongly accused, arguing that they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.

Hernandez, 66, and Bello, 55, are expected to be sentenced next week.

The five were charged in September 2010 along with former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia in what then-District Attorney Steve Cooley said was ``corruption on steroids.''

Rizzo pleaded no contest last October to all 69 charges against him and was sentenced April 17 to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay $8.8 million in restitution.

Spaccia was convicted last December of 11 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. Jurors acquitted her of one count of secretion of a public record involving former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams' employment contract, and deadlocked on another count -- misappropriation of public funds involving an alleged $75,500 loan of taxpayer money in 2003 -- that was eventually dismissed.

Spaccia was sentenced in April to 11 years and eight months in state prison and was ordered to pay more than $8 million in restitution. She is appealing her conviction.

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