The former mayor of Bell, California, was too stupid and uneducated to know his $100,000 salary for the part-time city job was illegal, his lawyer argued today.
Oscar Hernandez is illiterate, has no high school degree and didn’t even finish elementary school, defense attorney Stanley Friedmand told jurors.
Hernandez and five former members of the Bell City Council are on trial, accused of stealing $1.3million in exorbitant pay from the working-class city of 35,000.
All six elected officials drew salaries of up to $100,000 for serving on boards that seldom met and accomplished little.
Defense lawyers painted the officials as ignorant pawns of city manager Robert Rizzo and city attorney Edward Lee, who both advised them that massive pay raises were legal.
The attorneys for the former officials also blamed the city’s financial advisory firm, which never advised the town to pare back the salaries, they say.
Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller, though, said the officials all had important jobs in the community before their election. They weren’t daft or pawns – just greedy, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Hernandez owned a grocery store. Former council member Teresa Jacobo was a real estate agent and former councilman George Mirabal had worked as a city clerk.
‘They just weren’t “yes men,” except when it came to pay raises for themselves,’ Mr Miller told jurors.
The officials are accused of appointing each other to boards, some of which met only once a year, in order to skirt public pay laws.
In the midst of the recession, the officials were earning $100,000 from the city – three and a half times the median income of the citizens they were elected to represent.
The average salary for part-time elected officials at other California cities of similar size was $4,800.