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’s doubtful that when Bell Gardens City Councilman Mario Beltran and Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez went to an Applebees restaurant last October to meet two men angling for a lucrative city tow-truck contract, they anticipated a police search of Beltran’s City Hall office and home, but that’s what happened this week.
With an FBI agent supervising the search, LAPD detectives swooped down Wednesday on Beltran’s City Hall office at 7100 Garfield Avenue and his home in the rear of 7936 Garfield Avenue, also in Bell Gardens, according to Lieutenant Paul Vernon of the LAPD, who said an investigation into possible criminal threats and eavesdropping by Beltran is ongoing.
But police sources familiar with the search on Wednesday say questions exist about the identity of the two men who met with Rodriguez and Beltran before the politicians successfully pushed to award a five-year towing contract last November to United Motor Club of South Gate.
For Beltran, a rising politician and aide to State Senator Ron Calderon, it is the latest disruption in an already controversial career. Beltran made the news in March when he was convicted of filing a false police report with Bell Gardens police after an altercation at a Skid Row hooker hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where he allegedly assaulted a resident and passed out in the hallway.
Police also searched the 5030 Firestone Boulevard address of United Motor Club in South Gate on Wednesday, looking for evidence of financial transactions between Beltran and a man named Shahram Shayesteh, a convicted felon facing federal drug charges (not to be confused with the lawyer of the same name). Allegations of criminal threats and eavesdropping against Beltran and Shayesteh first surfaced in February, when a political rival of Beltran’s sought a restraining order against Shayesteh.
Investigators are searching for financial ties between Beltran and Shayesteh, Shayesteh and United Motor Club operators Seyed and Bahran Madaen, or United Motor Club and Beltran’s political firm, the Americas Consulting Group, according to search-warrant documents obtained by the L.A. Weekly.?
The LAPD investigation is being supervised by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman, according to a spokesperson in the D.A.’s office. ?
On Thursday, Beltran’s attorney, Philip Cohen, who has appealed Beltran’s recent conviction and alleged misconduct by prosecutors in that case, said of the search warrants, “The focus should be on the motives of the LAPD and the Los Angeles District Attorneys Office. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that just after we ask for a new trial the police search my client’s home and office. If they are looking to charge him with eavesdropping, then why didn’t they search his office months ago, when those allegations surfaced?” ?
State Senator Gil Cedillo, a political mentor to Beltran, said that the LAPD and Los Angeles D.A. Steve Cooley could be headed for political embarrassment similar to that of shamed former Durham County North Carolina D.A. Mike Nifong, who recently was disbarred for misconduct and resigned after the Duke lacrosse team rape trial ended in acquittal. “It’s too bad that Mario’s rites of passage as a politician have come under such scrutiny,” Cedillo said. “I know him and I trust him. He has my full faith and confidence.”
Last November, United Motor Club won an exclusive five-year towing contract in a unanimous Bell Gardens City Council vote less than a month after a meeting between Beltran, Rodriguez and two other men. In April, Rodriguez told the Weekly that one of the men at Applebees was Shayesteh, who described himself at a Bell Gardens council meeting last November as United Motor Club’s “manager and spokesman.” Detectives familiar with the current investigation say Rodriguez now claims she cannot recall the identity of either of the two men. Rodriguez did not return calls for comment on Thursday.
City governments are extremely careful about who they hire to tow illegally parked cars and cars involved in accidents or crimes, because such companies deal with the police and often impound cars that contain evidence in criminal cases. Bell Gardens is home to 44,000 mostly working-class people with below-average annual incomes, where approximately 1,700 cars are towed per year.
When the Bell Gardens City Council awarded the tow contract last November, Shayesteh was a three-time felon with fraud convictions in New Jersey, Wisconsin and Arizona, according to federal law enforcers. He also was more than two years into his defense against a pair of indictments in federal court in Los Angeles for drug possession and conspiracy to launder money and distribute opium.
Shayesteh recently saw the charges dropped in the money-laundering case, in which he had been accused of depositing $64,000 into the bank account of an alleged drug kingpin who allegedly oversaw a multimillion-dollar opium ring that extends from Iran to Germany to the United States. He still faces charges in federal court for possession with intent to distribute more than four pounds of opium, which is processed to make heroin.
Shayesteh’s affiliation with United Motor Club is hard to pin down. A May 18, 2004, letter from former Bell Gardens police chief Manuel Ortega to Shayesteh and United Motor Club thanks Shayesteh for donating $1,000 to a police boxing club that is intended to “divert our young men and women away from drugs.” On paper, however, the company is owned by Seyed Madaen, the brother of Bahran Madaen — an attorney who Mario Beltran once hired to help him launch his political consulting firm, and who also is United Motor Club’s vice president.