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
A SEARCH BY LOS ANGELESPOLICE and the FBI of Bell Gardens Councilman Mario Beltran’s home and City Hall office last Wednesday, seeking information regarding a lucrative city towing contract, could be the beginning of an uncomfortable summer for Beltran — and his political allies.
Police on June 20 also searched United Motor Club, a tow service that Beltran, a field deputy for Democratic state Senator Ron Calderon of Montebello, recommended for a five-year, $5 million contract that the Bell Gardens City Council approved last November.
Detectives are looking for evidence that Beltran steered the deal to a business associate, according to an affidavit filed in court by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Authorities also are trying to figure out who owns United Motor Club. The LAPD believes that a convicted felon and accused drug trafficker named Shahram Shayesteh is the owner, according to the police affidavit. Yet the company’s owners of record insist Shayesteh was merely a consultant who no longer has anything to do with their company.
If a convicted felon controls a company chosen as the official towing entity for a California city, it throws into question whether elected officials in that city knowingly granted a felon access to private car registration and driver’s license information, vehicular evidence gathered by police and other closely held information. Bell Gardens, a working-class city of 44,000, tows about 1,700 cars a year. Underlying the Beltran controversy is the question of who, exactly, is being allowed access to those vehicles.
Last November, Shayesteh, a three-time felon facing charges in two federal drug trafficking cases at the time, sauntered into a Bell Gardens City Council meeting, said he was United’s “spokesman and manager,” and walked out with an exclusive towing contract, for which United paid the city a $50,000 fee.
Following Beltran’s lead, the council approved the deal just weeks after Beltran and Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez met with two men at an Applebee’s restaurant in Bell Gardens. Police believe one of the men was Shayesteh, who is scheduled for trial in federal court next month on charges that he possessed four pounds of opium with intent to distribute the drug.
A federal judge recently dismissed a separate case against Shayesteh involving allegations of money laundering and drug trafficking in connection with an alleged international heroin ring. Shayesteh’s lawyer, Richard Steingard, has declined comment.
Though police, local officials and even business owners believe Shayesteh to be the owner of United Motor Club, on paper Seyed Madaen owns 75 percent of the company. Madaen’s brother, Bahran Madaen, is United’s vice president, as well as the registered agent for Mario Beltran’s political consulting firm, the Americas Consulting Group.
According to Bell Gardens Police Chief Keith Kilmer, who suspended the towing contract for 30 days after Shayesteh’s criminal past surfaced, the Madaen brothers recently divulged that they have cut all ties to Shayesteh. They too have declined comment.
In searching Beltran’s home and City Hall office and United Motor Club’s office, police sought connections between Beltran, Shayesteh, the Madaens, United Motor Club and the Americas Consulting Group, according to search warrant documents. Investigators seized computers and business records from all three locations.
In her affidavit, LAPD Detective Marcella Winn states that she believes Beltran has violated California law prohibiting public officials from handing out contracts in which they have a financial interest. Beltran appears to have received free legal services from Bahran Madaen, an officer of United Motor Club, the affidavit states. A police visit to the Van Nuys business address of Beltran’s consulting firm listed with the California Secretary of State revealed that it was Madaen’s law office.
Beltran’s actual place of business is in Monterey Park, where he maintains a phone-banking and political-consulting office. His political clients include Huntington Park Mayor John Noguez and state Senator Calderon. In recent months, Calderon has received correspondence from unhappy constituents, asking him to urge Beltran to resign.
BELTRAN HAS ALREADY RECEIVED unflattering media attention due to his embarrassing nightlife escapades (see “Mario Beltran’s Wild Night,” March 23–29, 2007) and scrutiny from a state political watchdog agency due to his political consulting activities.
In March, Beltran was convicted of filing a false police report after an altercation at a Skid Row hotel where witnesses said he used racial epithets, sexually assaulted a resident, passed out drunk and lost his city badge. Beltran insisted to Bell Gardens police that African-American men had robbed him at knife point, but a jury did not buy it.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Lowenthal (the son of Democratic state Senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach) denied a request for a new trial and sentenced Beltran to 36 months of probation, 200 hours of community service in Watts, 90 days of outpatient alcohol-abuse treatment — and a one-day racial sensitivity seminar at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
In a March 27, 2007, letter to Beltran, a lawyer for California Teachers for Educational Excellence (CTEE), a political fund-raising committee, also accused the Bell Gardens councilman of fraudulently using the committee’s name in an attack ad against Noguez’s opponents in an election in Huntington Park. “Theft of the CTEE name and likeness is a serious offense,” states the letter from Los Angeles attorney William Vallejos. Vallejos referred the matter to the state Fair Political Practices Commission and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.
In addition, the Fair Political Practices Commission received notice from the Bell Gardens city clerk that Beltran failed to file campaign-finance statements for two years.
“We no longer believe that Mr. Beltran can act in the best interest of our city or community,” states an April 16, 2007, letter to Calderon from the Committee to Remove Beltran From Office. The letter signed by about 200 Bell Gardens residents cites Beltran’s conviction for filing a false police report in March and his alleged campaign-disclosure lapses as two of several reasons why he should step down.
CALDERON, WHO SPENDS MUCH of his time in Sacramento, has refused to answer repeated written requests from the Weekly for comment. Likewise, he has not responded to the 200 constituents who complained about Beltran. A May 23, 2007, letter from the same committee urges a powerful Bay Area Democrat, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, to investigate Beltran’s actions because Beltran is a Senate employee. Perata’s office did not respond to requests for comment from the Weekly.
Beltran is known as a young and ambitious political consultant. Some see a great deal of potential in him — and suspect his legal troubles are the result of political machinations by his adversaries. “He has my full faith and confidence,” state Senator Gil Cedillo, Beltran’s political mentor, said last week after police searched Beltran’s home and office.
Meanwhile, the FBI also is investigating alleged kickbacks to Maywood city officials by Maywood Club Towing, which is owned by Shahram Shayesteh’s brother-in-law, Tooradj Khosroabadi, also known as Tony Bravo.
Between them, the two companies — United Motor Club and Maywood Club Towing — control towing contracts worth millions of dollars in four high-crime, low-income suburbs of Los Angeles. Each year the two companies tow thousands of cars owned by mostly poor immigrants in Bell Gardens, South Gate, Maywood and Cudahy.
Now, South Gate officials say they have suspended United’s business license for 30 days pending review of the city’s contract with the firm.
Shayesteh is no stranger to either tow company. According to federal court files, Tony Bravo and his wife, Elvia Franco, refinanced a house to post a bond for Shayesteh in Shayesteh’s federal drug trafficking case.
In a court hearing in May, during which Bell Gardens Councilman Daniel Crespo sought a restraining order against Shayesteh for alleged criminal threats, Crespo recalled that Tony Bravo and Maywood Councilman Sam Pena approached him last year and urged him not to worry about Shayesteh.
Crespo alleges that Shayesteh threatened him after the November Bell Gardens City Council meeting and during a three-way phone call that Beltran set up in February to discuss the city tow service. Crespo alleges that Beltran included Shayesteh in the call without Crespo’s knowledge.
According to police who are investigating Beltran and United Motor Club, both Pena and Tony Bravo have given statements indicating they believe Shayesteh owns United Motor Club. Pena and Bravo could not be reached for comment.
In April, Bell Gardens Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez told the Weekly that she and Beltran met with Shayesteh and an unidentified man at Applebee’s last year, just prior to approving the five-year, $5 million city towing contract with United.
Rodriguez has since told LAPD detectives she cannot recall the identity of either man at the meeting.
Beltran’s lawyer, Philip Cohen, told the Weekly last week that he believes police and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office are retaliating against Beltran because he sought a new trial for Beltran’s false police report conviction. Cohen alleged prosecutorial misconduct in that case.