LOS ANGELES — The Bell corruption trial came to a chaotic end Thursday as the judge declared a mistrial on the outstanding counts, saying “all hell has broken loose” with the deeply divided jury.
An exasperated Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy drew the case to a close after a bizarre day in which one juror asked to reconsider the guilty verdicts reached Wednesday. Then, an anonymous juror passed a note to Kennedy urging her to “remind the jury to remain respectful and not to make false accusations and insults to one another.” Kennedy refused to set aside the guilty verdicts.
Jurors spent 17 days behind closed doors before convicting Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal of driving up their salaries by serving on government boards that prosecutors said rarely met and, in one case, may have been invented as a device to push their paychecks even higher.
The panel of seven women and five men acquitted the defendants on some charges and were unable to reach a verdict on the remaining charges. Luis Artiga, a pastor, was exonerated on all counts.
Prosecutors charged the officials with misappropriating public funds by exceeding pay limits established in state law and the city’s own charter.
The prosecution had argued that the six defendants overpaid themselves by sitting on city boards and authorities that did little work and that council members in a city the size of Bell can only legally earn an annual salary of $8,076.
The defendants drew pay for serving on four boards, boosting their salaries to up to $100,000 a year, among the highest in the state for part-time council members. Defense attorneys maintained that their clients labored tirelessly for the community on nights and weekends and could receive additional compensation for work outside meetings.
They also placed the blame for the scandal on Lee and on Robert Rizzo, the former city administrator, saying Rizzo manipulated the unsuspecting council members. Rizzo, who earned nearly $800,000 a year, and his deputy Angela Spaccia go on trial later this year.