Calif. prosecutors seek retrial in corruption case

AP News
Posted: May 21, 2013 10:45 PM
Calif. prosecutors seek retrial in corruption case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County prosecutors said Tuesday they'll seek to retry five former officials in the city of Bell who were accused of corruption and overpaying themselves with public funds.

Prosecutors want the retrial after jurors in March issued a mixed verdict for former officials in the scandal-plagued Los Angeles suburb, and the judge declared a mistrial on some counts, said Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Jean Guccione.

The former mayor and four former Bell council members were convicted of stealing city funds by creating a bogus trash board to help pad their part-time salaries to nearly $100,000. However, the panel of seven women and five men acquitted the defendants of some counts and were deadlocked 9-3 in favor of guilt on others.

Prosecutors said city officials should have been earning closer to $8,000 a year, but they boosted their pay by serving on boards that hardly ever met and nearly bankrupted the city. One in six of Bell's 40,000 residents lives in poverty.

The case involving the modest 2 1/2-square-mile city became a national symbol of political greed.

Deliberations had dragged on for 19 days — almost as long as trial testimony — and the jury seemed troubled at times during the case.

Right as deliberations were beginning, a tearful juror claimed she was being harassed by other members, and was excused for having her daughter research juror coercion. She was replaced by an alternate.

Notes from other jurors later asked to withdraw a guilty verdict and hinted at bad behavior among members before a judge declared a mistrial on about half of the counts of misappropriating public funds.

"It seems to me all hell has broken loose," Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy had told attorneys after receiving the final juror note.

Another former official was acquitted of all charges. Guccione says prosecutors don't plan to challenge that decision.