Oscar Hernandez: Bell, California ex-mayor convicted on 5 corruption charges

(CNN) -- Former Bell, California, Mayor Oscar Hernandez was found guilty Wednesday on five felony charges for the misappropriation of funds, with more such verdicts possible as the jury continues to weigh several counts in the case.

Hernandez and several former city council members in Bell, a city of 36,000 people about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, had been on trial since January after prosecutors accused them of widespread corruption.

In addition to convicting him on five charges, the jury on Wednesday found Hernandez not guilty on five other charges.

There were similarly split verdicts for former Bell city council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole Jr. and Victor Bello.

The only ex-council member found not guilty on all counts announced Wednesday was Luis Antonio Artiga, who cried as his verdicts were read.

"You are free to go sir," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said afterward. "Good luck to you."

The jury has not yet reached verdicts on other counts in the case. After the other verdicts were read out in court, Kennedy said there still "remain deliberating jurors on this matter" and said "we're going to proceed a little bit further" -- meaning more guilty verdicts could be forthcoming.

Prosecutors alleged that the six ex-council members, as well as the two other former city officials, turned the city treasury into "their own piggy bank, which they looted at will."

Between 2006 and 2010, they "illegally gamed the system to receive ridiculous salaries for doing no work" and were paid nearly $8,000 a month for meetings on four boards that never took place or lasted just a few minutes, prosecutors have alleged.

Those boards were the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Finance Authority and Community Housing Authority, authorities said.

Except for Artiga, the jury found the defendants guilty of misappropriation of funds for "payment of services as (members) of the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority." They were found not guilty of misappropriating funds while members of the public financing authority.

Verdicts have not yet been reached on charges tied to the former public officials' work -- except for Artiga -- related to the other committees.


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