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Jury deadlocks on last counts against former Bell, California, officials

Five former Bell City elected officials, Victor Bello, Oscar Hernandez, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo (bottom R-L), and George Mirabal (top C)
Five former Bell City elected officials, Victor Bello, Oscar Hernandez, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo (bottom R-L), and George Mirabal (top C)

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A day after five former elected officials from the scandal-plagued California city of Bell were convicted of misappropriating public funds, a judge on Thursday declared a mistrial on remaining counts after the jury deadlocked.

The trial stemmed from an explosive scandal in Bell, a small, mostly blue-collar municipality near Los Angeles that drew national attention as a symbol of public corruption after it was revealed in 2010 that the city manager, Robert Rizzo, was paid a salary of $787,000.

Rizzo faces a separate trial with his onetime assistant on public corruption charges.

"It seems to me that all hell has broken loose in the jury deliberation room," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy told attorneys after receiving notes from jury members in the trial of the former elected officials.

Also on Thursday, Kennedy called the 12 jurors into court, and they each said that further deliberations would not help break the deadlock on remaining charges, which were also of misappropriation. The jury of seven women and five men said they were deadlocked, 9-3 in favor of conviction.

The mistrial on those counts came a day after the jury found ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former City Council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal each guilty on five felony counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted them of five other counts.

The charge of misappropriation of public funds carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison, although an attorney for one of the defendants said earlier this week that they could be sentenced to probation.

Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while ex-Councilman Victor Bellow was found guilty of four counts and acquitted of four others.

A sixth defendant, former Councilman Luis Artiga, was acquitted of all 12 counts against him.

The judge set an April 23 sentencing hearing in the case, where prosecutors could reveal whether they plan to seek a retrial on the remaining counts.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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