Its 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 Beltrans City Hall office and home, but thats what happened this week.
With an FBI agent supervising the search, LAPD detectives swooped down Wednesday on Beltrans 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 Beltrans 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 Beltrans 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, Beltrans attorney, Philip Cohen, who has appealed Beltrans 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 dont know if its a coincidence that just after we ask for a new trial the police search my clients home and office. If they are looking to charge him with eavesdropping, then why didnt 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. Its too bad that Marios 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 Clubs 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.
Shayestehs 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 Clubs vice president.
Yet Shayesteh appeared before the Bell Gardens City Council last November 13 and proposed on behalf of United Motor Club to pay a $50,000 franchise fee for the exclusive city towing contract.
In April, the Weekly reported on Shayestehs criminal past and current drug charges, and Bell Gardens promptly suspended United Motor Club for 30 days while the city investigated who owns the company.
Since then, Shayesteh also was slapped with a restraining order for criminal threats he allegedly made to Bell Gardens City Councilman Daniel Crespo, on a three-way phone conversation allegedly set up by Beltran, in which Crespo and Beltran disagreed about the citys towing policies. Crespo alleges that he was not aware of Shayestehs presence on the other line, until Shayesteh broke into the conversation and said, Im going to fuck you up, according to Crespos testimony at a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court last month. Crespo told a judge that he fears for his safety.
LAPD Lieutenant Vernon said the search on Wednesday turned up numerous documents that the LAPD will review to determine whether evidence exists to charge Shayesteh and Beltran with criminal threats and eavesdropping.
Soon after last months hearing, Bell Gardens Police Chief Keith Kilmer reinstated United Motor Club which also performs towing services in nearby South Gate because the 30-day suspension was up. Kilmer said that the Madaens have assured him that Shayesteh was merely a consultant, and no longer works with United Motor Club. They said he arranged for the sale of cars from their impound lot, or something like that, Kilmer told the Weekly. Obviously we cannot have a convicted felon connected with a city tow service, but then, we dont see any evidence of fraud either. Well continue to assess our rights under the contract and our responsibility to the public.
Federal court documents describe Shayesteh as an opium and gambling addict who once had a company called KBR Coachworks, from which he allegedly deposited checks into a downtown jewelry design store allegedly connected to an international heroin ring. A federal judge recently dismissed drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges against Shayesteh in that case.
So who are the Madaen brothers? After working in sales with the German Convention Corp., in Bonn, Germany, for five years in the late 1980s, Seyed Madaen started Downtown L.A. Towing in 1991, which was renamed United Motor Club after it secured contracts in Huntington Park, Cudahy, South Gate and Bell Gardens, according to documents on file at South Gate City Hall. Seyed Madaen is listed as the companys president and 75 percent owner, and his brother, Bahran Madaen is listed as the companys vice president and secretary. It is unclear who owns the other 25 percent of the towing company.
The Secretary of States Web site also lists Bahran Madaen as Beltrans legal agent in Beltrans political consulting firm, the Americas Consulting Group. Bahran Madaen is a Huntington Park-based attorney licensed in California since 2004, according to the State Bar Web site. On Thursday, he answered a call to his office from the Weekly and promptly hung up without answering questions.
A tape of a Bell Gardens City Council meeting on November 13 shows Mayor Rodriguez and Councilman Beltran rejecting the advice of Police Chief Kilmer and the assistant city manager that the city should choose two towing companies, not just one, to assure better service. Instead, Beltran and Rodriguez recommended only United, and the rest of the council agreed.
The staff is recommending two companies, but Im recommending one, insisted Beltran, before voting to eliminate United Motor Clubs competitor, which had served the city since 1970. Im ready to move forward. Ive done my homework. Rodriguez then argued that a three-year contract with United was too short to protect the citys interests and asked, What about five years?
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In interviews with the Weekly, Rodriguez and Beltran insist they had no idea of Shayestehs criminal record, and claim that the city has had no problems with United Motor Clubs towing service. Beltran confirmed that Bahran Madaen is his legal agent for his consulting firm, but said he did not know that Madaen also is the vice president of United Motor Club.
Shayestehs federal court file contains clues as to how deep his relationship with the Madaens might go. For instance, court records state that Seyed Madaen refinanced a house in Arcadia in 2006 to post a bond for Shayesteh in one of his federal cases.
Officials in Bell Gardens and Los Angeles also say that Shayestehs brother-in-law, Tooradj Khosroabadi, a.k.a. Tony Bravo, owns Maywood Club Towing, which currently is under federal investigation for allegedly paying kickbacks to Maywood officials. Khosroabadi and his wife, Elvia Franco, also refinanced a house to post a bond for Shayesteh, federal court records show.
At the May hearing in which he sought a restraining order against Shayesteh, Councilman Crespo testified that he first felt threatened after the Bell Gardens council meeting last November, when Shayesteh allegedly objected to some questions publicly raised by Crespo. He told me I was going to be in trouble with some people in Maywood, Crespo testified. Crespo testified that later, Tony Bravo and Maywood Councilman Sam Pena approached him and urged him not to worry about Shayesteh.