{mosimage}Bell Gardens Councilman Mario Beltran was recently convicted of lying to the police after a wild night last June that involved allegations of sexual assault, racial insults and public drunkenness that spilled out of the 740 Club on Broadway and onto Skid Row.

But as intriguing as that spectacle was — a councilman being seen with prostitutes and allegedly hurling the N word in a Skid Row dive — another aspect of this rising politico is his close association with 740 Club impresario Ralph Verdugo, who came to Beltran’s aid after Beltran woke up drunk on the floor of the Huntington Hotel with his wallet and city badge missing.

Beltran, who had been imbibing at the 740 Club earlier that night, told Bell Gardens police he was robbed on the street at knife point by African-American men. On March 23, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found him guilty of filing a false police report about what happened that night.

Testimony at Beltran’s trial established that Verdugo and La Puente Councilman John Solis accompanied Beltran to the Huntington Hotel on his wild night to retrieve Beltran’s belongings, and Beltran later went home with Verdugo to sleep off the humiliating ordeal. Police documents and testimony of a security guard at the hotel further established that Verdugo and Solis gave hotel residents the impression they were the police and could bring down the heat if they did not recover Beltran’s possessions.

How does the 740 Club figure in? It is operated by Verdugo, who has a checkered past as a night-club owner and a history of brushes with the law. Solis acts as the club’s caretaker when Verdugo isn’t around. Beltran used to work for Verdugo at a previous, failed nightclub venture, according to public documents on file in Whittier. Beltran and Solis are not the only local officials who appear to be more than casual patrons of the 740 Club, a multistory mega-club that boasts go-go dancers, Vegas-style laser light shows, fog machines, private balcony booths and “ultra VIP sky boxes” — but which also has been plagued by disturbing and violent incidents in recent months.

According to LAPD Captain Andrew Smith, 740 Club caters to gang members and has been a source of violence and public drunkenness, even allowing a 2005 fund-raiser to pay for the funeral of a slain member of the Mongols biker gang. Smith said, “I personally have met with the owners at least four times in the last year and a half and it continues to be a nuisance.”

Among the current and former local officials associated with the club is Steven Carmona, a former Los Angeles public-works and central-area planning commissioner, and now the director of the National Electrical Contractors Association/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11. Carmona is listed as the 740 Club’s representative on Department of Building and Safety inspection documents, obtained by the L.A. Weekly, and says, “I’m friends with Ralph. It’s a great venue but a tough business.”

In addition, the 740 Club has emerged as a venue for political gatherings sponsored by Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar, whose 14th council district includes the rundown stretch of Broadway where limousines line up in the urine-drenched alley that gives way to the velvet rope, red-carpet entrance and bastion of gangsta-style nightlife.

“Baaallinnn!” is Verdugo’s motto, plastered on his MySpace page.

Voluntary segregation: Black patrons gather on Friday nights,
while Saturday night is dominated by Latinos, at the stench-filled
back-alley entrance to the 740 Club.

Yet it’s not all fun and games at the 740 Club. Alarming incidents confirmed by local officials suggest that it is a dicey place to dance the night away. According to the LAPD, one woman was found lying unconscious there earlier this month with her pants and underpants pulled down. Authorities found evidence she had had sex, and police are investigating the incident as a possible sexual assault. Last August, a man identified as Roman Alvarado was stabbed in the 740 Club parking lot, allegedly by a member of the White Fence gang, after a fight broke out inside the club, and died from his stab wounds two weeks later.

Police also are investigating an incident in which an off-duty Long Beach cop's personal car was stolen from the 740 Club parking lot, along with his badge. The car was later recovered, but the badge is still missing. Verdugo could not be reached for comment about the troubles at his club.

All of this raises questions such as, why are government officials involved with such a joint? And what goes on at the hot and heavy 740 Club that has attracted aspiring politicos like Beltran and Solis, or former commissioners turned labor honchos like Carmona?

Then there is Huizar, identified as a “True Blue” sponsor on an invitation by the Metropolitan Democratic Club last July to its one-year anniversary party at the 740 Club, hosted by Verdugo and Carmona. Beltran and lawyer-lobbyist Francisco Leal, the city attorney in Maywood and Huntington Park, are listed as “Blue” sponsors.

Huizar also hosted a private fund-raiser there, and later took his wife to the club. However, he said he recently learned that the City Attorney’s Office is considering a nuisance-abatement action, telling the Weekly, “It doesn’t fit my vision for that part of Broadway.”

With Verdugo at its center, it is a strange confluence of politics and nightlife, this trendy club featuring major rap and R&B acts such as R. Kelly, Missy Elliott, Usher and Snoop Dogg, which at times hosts private political events such as the after-party last fall for the National Latino Congreso.

In a recent interview with the Weekly, Beltran said he frequents the 740 Club “about once every other month,” and that his wild night last June was “an isolated incident.” Yet it was enough to prompt Verdugo and Solis to accompany him back to the hotel, where his two friends offered money to residents in exchange for the return of Beltran’s possessions.

Solis and Verdugo actually searched the rooms of two hotel residents, according to the police report and testimony at Beltran’s trial. Solis declined to comment on the incident. Nevertheless, such was Solis’ — and Verdugo’s — involvement in the tawdry affair that they both hired lawyers and declined to testify at Beltran’s trial, despite the district attorney’s offer of immunity from possible prosecution for impersonating police while at the hotel.

Meanwhile, the Weekly has learned that club owner Verdugo has had previous scrapes with the law. In 1992, according to local law enforcers, Verdugo was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon in Huntington Park. Though he was detained, formal charges were dismissed. In 1999, according to police sources, he was arrested for public intoxication in Maywood, again avoiding a criminal conviction.

But a lengthy and well-documented public ordeal in Whittier placed Verdugo under the microscope — and offers a glimpse of how he has done business in the past.

In April 2004, Verdugo was found guilty of five misdemeanor violations involving illegal male stripteasing at Ibiza Steak and Lounge, a raucous nightclub he owned in Whittier that was a magnet for crime and violence, according to Whittier law-enforcement records obtained by the Weekly.

Before he was convicted, Whittier officials caught Verdugo holding unlicensed boxing matches. Whittier officials compiled a raft of zoning violations, and from 2000 to 2004, Whittier police records show, Ibiza was the scene of 325 calls for police service related to violence, drunkenness, and disturbances such as fights, stabbings and a shooting of a patron outside the club.

Less than a month after Verdugo was convicted for offering illegal nude-male entertainment, L.A. County Fire Department officials discovered a private party in the “VIP” room of the Ibiza featuring female exotic dancers, in violation of Ibiza’s business permit. Eventually, the city revoked Verdugo’s right to sell alcohol — and he went out of business.

One of his key character witnesses at the city revocation hearings was Mario Beltran, then a Bell Gardens planning commissioner, who testified that he once took a year off from politics to “work with [Verdugo] in his business as a manager.”

Pressured out of Whittier, Verdugo opened the 740 Club in downtown Los Angeles in 2005, and is now president of the Entertainment Group Inc., which holds the liquor license. According to Carmona, the Fire Department “wants separate corridors from the mezzanine and the main floor, in case of emergency,” and the club has yet to receive final permit approval. Rather, it operates under a renewable temporary certificate of occupancy.

Even so, the club attracts political events. And last August, after the club hosted its grand opening, Verdugo, the Entertainment Group and a club employee named Alfredo Galvez each contributed $500 to Los Angeles City Councilman Huizar — on the same day.

LA Weekly