By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“It gets a lot worse than that,” says a local cop, acknowledging that criminal threats are so common that police are hard-pressed to investigate them.
In contrast to the vulnerability of the average Cudahy resident, business owners who operate questionable businesses get velvet-glove treatment from politicians that would be considered scandalous in the city of Los Angeles. In Cudahy, the Potrero Club is one of several magnets for crime and is frequented by gangsters, but it is nevertheless embraced by Cudahy authorities. A notorious nightspot that parents warn their children to stay away from, the Potrero Club has a long record of being the scene of thefts, assaults and drug activity.
Officials in Cudahy openly promote this crime magnet, however, holding fund-raisers for the Cudahy Youth Foundation there and even using it as an annual gathering spot for a children’s Christmas pageant. Cudahy has sunk so low that each year at Christmastime, Perez and the city council parade around town on the back of a tow truck and toss candy to the children, with the procession ending in a toy giveaway at the Potrero Club, whose owners in the past have displayed photos not of Hollywood movie stars but of famous Mexican drug traffickers.
Crime statistics for the Potrero Club show 700 calls for police assistance there since September 2003, in response to reports of shootings, assaults, stabbings, beatings by security guards, drug use — even rape.
City leaders don’t find it strange that a dangerous nightclub passes for a civic pillar in Cudahy. Cars disappear from the Potrero at an alarming rate, according to police reports obtained by the Weekly.When asked about Cudahy’s use of the Potrero for official events, Perez says, “It’s not my favorite place, but we’ll continue to use it.”
Even before recent threats against the upstart Cudahy City Council candidates, politics and violence bled together in the surrounding and equally troubled immigrant suburbs.
The widely publicized nonfatal shooting of a councilman in South Gate by an unknown assailant in 1999 ushered in a brutal era. Soon afterward, police investigated the mayor of neighboring Bell Gardens for allegedly trying to run over a former city councilman. Former South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles allegedly threatened to rape and murder his political opponents. No charges resulted from the alleged threats, but Robles was convicted of bribery and sent to prison. In January of this year, a city council candidate in Huntington Park reported to police that he received “terrorist threats” on the street from three men in dark suits who sped off in a luxury car.
Some Mexican-American politicians are apologists for the dark side in these troubled little cities, chalking up the chaos to lack of experience on the part of the Latino officials who took power as the demographics changed.
“Just like a mother never gives birth to a criminal, no politician ever gets elected with criminal intent,” says Rosario Marin, former U.S treasurer and former Huntington Park mayor, who was followed in her car and terrorized by unknown assailants as her city struggled with gang violence, drug trafficking and federal investigations.
“I have to believe that,” adds Marin, a prominent California Republican with close ties to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed her as secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency. “Yet it hurts me to see how people get corrupted.”
Confronted with an alarming pattern, District Attorney Steve Cooley distinguished himself from his predecessors by going after public corruption in L.A. County — with mixed results. Some say his convictions of officials in Compton and South Gate were low-lying fruit, and that Cudahy got away from him.
Ever-present in Cudahy and its neighboring cities are three attorneys who have, over the years, blended municipal law and lobbying to great effect. Arnoldo Beltran, Francisco Leal and David Olivas have made a small fortune representing scandal-plagued cities. Today, Olivas represents Cudahy and Leal represents Maywood, with the two cities sharing a police force that is in disarray.
Perhaps foremost among the many controversies in which these lawyers have been embroiled are allegations explored in a 1999 L.A. Times story that Beltran, a Stanford-educated lawyer, and Leal, a Harvard Law School graduate raised by immigrants in El Paso, were threatening to launch recall campaigns against elected officials in Lynwood, Commerce and Bell Gardens if they did not vote to retain the two men’s legal services.
Beltran and Leal, former partners in a now-defunct law firm that also included Olivas as an associate, at the time denied the allegations. Beltran would not comment for this article. Leal did not return several calls for comment. But they would be hard-pressed to deny that their political savvy has earned them a reputation for being influential advisers to many small cities.
In 1999, the firm split, with Leal and Olivas going off to form Leal, Olivas & Jauregui, which represented the city of Cudahy in 2000 when Perez made the revolving-door move, through a series of ordinances drafted by David Olivas, from city councilman to city manager. The resulting grand-jury investigation did not lead to criminal charges but left a lasting mark on the city.