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Ex-officials convicted in Calif. corruption case

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 21, 2013 at 8:32 am •  Published: March 21, 2013

"I said, 'Thank you, Lord,'" a beaming Artiga, surrounded by his wife and four children, said outside court. "I never lost faith. I knew it, I just knew it."

The convictions all related to the defendants being paid for sitting on Bell's Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, an entity they could not prove had been legally established or did any work. Artiga was not on the City Council when it was created.

Records show the authority met only one time between 2006 and 2010 and there was no evidence any waste was ever collected or recycled.

Many of the still unresolved charges relate to the council members' work on other agencies that prosecutors also say were created only to boost their salaries.

The defendants, many of whom took the witness stand during the trial, insisted they earned those salaries by working around the clock to help residents. They and their lawyers blamed Rizzo for creating the fiscal mess Bell was left in.

The city of 36,000 residents, where one in four people live below the poverty line, was threatened with bankruptcy after the state controller ordered that the illegally collected taxes, license fees and other revenue be repaid.

Witnesses at the trial depicted Rizzo as a micro-manager who put all those misdeeds in motion while convincing the city's elected officials they deserved their huge salaries.

He was said to have manipulated council members into signing major financial documents, particularly Hernandez who does not read English and, according to his lawyer, was often unaware of what he was signing.

Jacobo testified that when Rizzo told her that he was increasing her salary enough that she could quit her job selling real estate, she asked the former city attorney if that was legal and he assured her it was.

After the scandal was disclosed, thousands of Bell residents protested at City Council meetings and staged a successful recall election to throw out the entire council and elect new leaders.

Current Mayor Ali Saleh, a leader of the recall, hailed the guilty verdicts on Wednesday but said residents won't be truly satisfied until Rizzo and Spaccia are tried.

"Our community will rest when the legal process has come full circle and justice has been served," he said.

Denisse Rodarte, 31, a longtime Bell resident who was also involved in launching the recall, stood outside Bell City Hall after the verdict holding up a sign. It read, "Rizzo is next."


Associated Press writers Greg Risling, Robert Jablon, Chris Weber, Gillian Flaccus and Linda Deutsch contributed to this story.