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3 counts dismissed in California corruption case

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge dismissed some felony charges against a former mayor and ex-councilman of the scandal-plagued city of Bell who were accused of misappropriating funds to overpay themselves.

In a ruling made public Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy dismissed one count of misappropriation of public funds against ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez and two counts of misappropriation of public funds against former Councilman Luis Artiga.

Kennedy, however, denied a motion to dismiss charges against former City Manager Robert Rizzo and fellow administrator Angela Spaccia.

Prosecutors contend that Rizzo had an annual salary and compensation package worth $1.5 million and masterminded a scheme to loot the city of Bell of more than $6 million.

Hernandez and Artiga still face charges of misappropriating funds in a separate case filed by prosecutors.

“Given the reasoning of the court in today’s decision, we are confident that we will prevail in trial in the other case,” said Hernandez’s attorney Stanley Friedman. “If there was anything illegal in the city of Bell, Mayor Hernandez was unaware of it.”

Kennedy said in her ruling that Artiga and Hernandez received loans from Bell, and that there was no evidence that both men knew they were unlawfully being given the money.

Rizzo “virtually ran this loan program unilaterally” and doled out more than 40 loans worth nearly $2 million between 2001 and 2010, Kennedy wrote in her Feb. 9 ruling.

In rejecting the dismissal motion by Rizzo and Spaccia, Kennedy said they “simply set their own financial terms awarding themselves huge raises and other fringe benefits.”

“This is a textbook case of conflict of interest,” Kennedy said.

Bell is a city of about 40,000 where one in six people live in poverty.

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