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Ex-city officials in California accept plea deal in corruption case

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Five former elected officials from the scandal-plagued California city of Bell pleaded no contest on Wednesday to corruption charges, as cases wind to a close against a number of officials found to have stolen nearly $11 million from the working-class community, prosecutors said.

The five former city council members were convicted last year of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five other counts of the same charge. But jurors had deadlocked on a few other charges.

Wednesday's plea deal avoids a retrial on those charges. The five former officials pleaded no contest to two counts each of misappropriation of public funds, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement.

The case stemmed from a scandal in Bell, a working-class municipality near Los Angeles, following revelations in 2010 that its city manager, Robert Rizzo, was paid a salary of $787,000 - or nearly twice that of President Barack Obama. The episode fueled a statewide debate over public pay.

The five former Bell elected officials, former mayor Oscar Hernandez, former vice mayor Teresa Jacobo and former council members George Mirabal, Victor Bello and George Cole, admitted earning up to $100,000 a year each for sitting on various municipal boards that rarely met to conduct business.

Under the plea deal, the five former officials each face a possible sentence of four years in prison, which includes sentencing for the charges they were convicted of last year, said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office. They are to be sentenced in June and July.

Rizzo, the city's former administrator who in December pleaded no contest to 69 felony counts of public corruption, is scheduled to be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison at a hearing on April 16.

Angela Spaccia, the city's former assistant chief administrative officer, was convicted by a jury in December of 11 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. She is set to be sentenced on Thursday.

Rizzo and Spaccia stole $8 million of the nearly $11 million prosecutors say the seven former officials took from Bell.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)

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