By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
A recent criminal convictionfor filing a false police report is not the first brush with the law for Bell Gardens City Councilman Mario Beltran. Nor is it out of the question that it won’t be his last, according to court documents obtained by the L.A. Weekly.
Beltran is known as an enterprising immigrant from El Salvador who was taken under the wing of state Senator Gil Cedillo and later elected councilman after serving as a planning commissioner in Bell Gardens. In addition, with a publicly funded annual salary of $55,000, he works as a field deputy for state Senator Ron Calderon.
The picture of Beltran coming into focus, however, is of a young, aggressive L.A. County politico who straddles a thin line between politics and the street, with questionable regard for the law.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found Beltran guilty of filing a false police report on March 23 after a wild trial arising from an even wilder night, last June, during which Beltran allegedly assaulted a resident of the seedy Huntington Hotel, passed out on the hotel floor, woke up without his wallet and city badge, and ran back to the 740 Club, where he had gotten drunk earlier.
Beltran has been seen running from the scene of a public disturbance before.
According to Sergeant Kean Oda of the Alhambra Police Department, Beltran, while serving as a city planning commissioner in Bell Gardens, was arrested in 2004 for resisting arrest. The court later dismissed his case “in furtherance of justice.”
Police responded to a fight at the Sapphire Bar on Main Street in Alhambra in the early morning hours of March 12, 2004, according to Oda. When they arrived, they saw a car departing and followed it. When the car stopped, the passengers — including Beltran — jumped out and ran. Police arrested four suspects, including Beltran, after finding the young men hiding in the bushes.
Beltran has attracted more-recent police attention. On February 28, according to a request for a temporary restraining order obtained by the Weekly, Beltran arranged a phone call with fellow Bell Gardens Councilman Daniel Crespo, a political rival, to discuss a city tow-truck contract. Without Crespo’s knowledge, the request states, Beltran had placed on the phone line a representative of United Tow Co., who became angry and yelled at Crespo, “I’m going to fuck you up, you fucking piece of shit.”
The LAPD has completed an investigation of the incident. Beltran argued in his defense at a recent council meeting that he was simply trying “to catch Crespo in a lie.”
Bell Gardens officials also have had problems with Beltran. According to the Bell Gardens City Clerk’s Office, Beltran has failed to file his campaign-finance statements for 2006, despite two written requests by the city clerk, who confirmed last week that the matter was referred to the enforcement division of the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento for investigation.
Yet Beltran boasts his own political consulting firm, the Americas Consulting Group, and served as campaign manager for his boss, Calderon, and Huntington Park Mayor John Noguez. “I haven’t lost an election yet,” Beltran recently told the Weekly.
Another of Beltran’s close political allies is Cudahy Vice Mayor Osvaldo Conde, a grocer. “I have great admiration and respect for him,” Beltran said.
Conde was re-elected recently by fewer than 100 votes in Cudahy, a tiny crime-ravaged city that borders Bell Gardens. And like Beltran, whose night in a seedy hotel last June followed heavy alcohol consumption, Conde likes the nightlife. According to the District Attorney’s Office, he pleaded guilty recently to driving under the influence of alcohol after being arrested in Huntington Park last December. He was sentenced to 13 days in jail, 36 months of probation, and fined $490, the District Attorney’s Office said.
If Conde is an older mentor to Beltran, a political up-and-comer named Johnny Verdugo might be trying to follow in Beltran’s footsteps. Among the character witnesses Beltran planned to introduce at his recent trial, Verdugo — no relation to 740 Club owner Ralph Verdugo — is a parole agent in L.A. County and the CEO of Political Tel Systems, a phone-banking outfit.
Verdugo has announced his intention to run for City Council in Montebello. “Hardcore, no crying, no stopping, pure non-stop action” is his mantra on his MySpace page. “November 2007. General Election. YUMMY!”
Johnny Verdugo’s “friends” — besides Beltran, that is — include people identifying themselves on his page as “Arnold Schwarzenegger,” “North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il” and a tough-looking guy called “im a fuck.”
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