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5 ex-officials convicted in pay scheme

Oscar Hernandez, the former mayor of Bell, Calif., was convicted with others of inflating pay.

Irfan Khan/Reuters/Pool

Oscar Hernandez, the former mayor of Bell, Calif., was convicted with others of inflating pay.

LOS ANGELES — Five former elected officials of the city of Bell were convicted Wednesday of multiple counts of misappropriating public funds by paying themselves huge salaries while raising taxes on residents.

A former mayor, Oscar Hernandez, and codefendants Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole, and Victor Belo were all convicted of multiple counts and acquitted of others.

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Former councilman Luis Artiga was cleared entirely.

The charges involved paying themselves inflated salaries of up to $100,000 a year in the city of 36,000 people, where 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line.

An audit by the state controller’s office had found the city had illegally raised property taxes, business license fees, and other sources of revenue to pay the salaries. The office ordered the money repaid.

The guilty findings were related to the appointment of the defendants to the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, an agency that prosecutors said served no purpose other than to pay them a salary.

All were cleared of charges that they illegally tapped public money while serving on the city’s Public Financing Authority. The waste authority was never created legally and met only once in 2006, which boosted pay by about $13,000 per member.

Artiga was found not guilty of a dozen charges. He was the only defendant who had not served as mayor at some point.

His attorney, George Mgdesyan, said Artiga was not involved in the committees where the corruption began.

The scandal raised the curtain on a fiefdom established by a former city manager, Robert Rizzo. City records revealed he had an annual compensation package worth $1.5 million, making him one of the highest paid administrators in the country. His salary was about $800,000 a year, double that of the US president.

He and his assistant city manager face trial later.

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