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Councilman accused of conflict in backing city contract

Mario Beltran of Bell Gardens allegedly helped a towing firm linked to a friend.

June 22, 2007|Andrew Blankstein and Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

Bell Gardens Councilman Mario Beltran is suspected of steering a $5-million automobile towing contract to a company connected to an old friend and business associate, according to a Los Angeles police affidavit released Thursday.

L.A. police also allege that Beltran's City Council colleague Daniel Crespo received an unspecified threat when he raised "issues" over the contract.

Although authorities would not specify the nature of the alleged threat or who made it, the affidavit says Crespo told Beltran during a telephone call that he had been threatened by the owner of the towing company, United Motor Club in South Gate, after a council meeting in November.

The affidavit also alleges that Beltran allowed the owner, Shahram Shayesteh, to secretly listen in on the conversation in which Crespo discussed the threat.

During the conversation, the affidavit says, Beltran asked Crespo how he was going to vote on the towing contract and told Crespo he had the support of two other council members to give it to United. Beltran asked Crespo if he liked Shayesteh, and Crespo said, "No, he threatened me."

In November, Beltran was in the City Council majority that awarded the contract to United, ending a 38-year relationship with another towing firm.

The conversation triggered a criminal-threat investigation that led this week to searches at Beltran's home and City Hall office. Police also took evidence from the towing company.

Authorities say the vice president of the towing firm, attorney Bahran Madaen, also did free work for Beltran's firm, Americas Consulting Group, and said he was an old friend of the councilman. In the affidavit, an LAPD detective says she and an FBI agent went to the Van Nuys address listed for the consulting group and found it to be a law office of Madaen.

"If these facts are correct, Mario Beltran would have a financial interest in the United Motor Club vote," the affidavit says, "since his providing a benefit to Bahran could influence Bahran's continued providing of free services to Beltran."

Further, according to the affidavit, Madaen's free services to Beltran should have been reported as a gift under state laws governing public officials.

Beltran's attorney, Phillip Cohen, denied any wrongdoing by his client. "This appears to be a witch hunt against Councilman Beltran for purely politically motivated reasons," Cohen said.

"What is interesting here is that the case initially began as a criminal-threat case against Mr. Beltran, for which the search turned up no evidence. Then it apparently became an eavesdropping case against Mr. Beltran, for which the search turned up no evidence. And now it seems they are grasping at straws to promote some type of political platform" by accusing Beltran of improperly acting on a towing contract.

A person who answered the phone at Madaen's Huntington Park law office hung up. A later message was not returned. A man who answered the phone at the towing firm said its owner, Shayesteh, was not at work Thursday and also hung up.

Bell Gardens Mayor Jennifer Rodriquez said she didn't know of any relationship between Beltran and United Motor Club.

"This is a surprise to all of us. I believe everyone who voted in favor of this company thought it was the best towing company to bring in," Rodriguez said. "If we were aware of the allegations, perhaps the council would have gone in a different direction."

Beltran, a legislative aide to state Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), was convicted in March of filing a false police report claiming he was robbed a block from a hotel in downtown L.A. At trial, the prosecutor said Beltran lied to police because he was embarrassed by the fact that, according to witnesses, he had been drunk at a downtown nightclub and passed out in a hallway of the hotel, which is used by prostitutes.

Beltran is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday and faces a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

His attorney has appealed the conviction and filed a motion this week seeking a new trial.

andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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