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Guard tells of councilman's night at hotel

A witness in the trial of a Bell Gardens official who is accused of filing a false police report says he found the man passed out drunk.

March 17, 2007|Charles Proctor | Times staff writer

A security guard testified Friday that he found a Bell Gardens councilman passed out drunk on the second floor of a downtown Los Angeles hotel used by prostitutes.

Another witness testified that he heard Councilman Mario Beltran call a woman a racial slur during the June 2006 incident at the Huntington Hotel, on Main Street between 7th and 8th streets.

Beltran, on trial at the Downey branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, is accused of filing a false police report, a misdemeanor.

Prosecutors say he accused the woman of robbing him of his wallet and city badge to discredit her complaint that he had groped her and called her a racial slur that evening.

The woman, Sherrilynn Ridgeway, said she grabbed Beltran's wallet by accident during a scuffle in the hotel hallway.

Beltran has been on the Bell Gardens City Council for two years and said he works as a legislative aide to state Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello).

Security guard Antonio Hines testified that after he shook the unconscious Beltran and nudged him with his shoe, he helped the councilman downstairs. Beltran then fled.

About 15 minutes later, Hines testified, two men who described themselves as police officers arrived and offered the guard and hotel residents a wad of cash to help find the councilman's city badge.

Philip Cohen, Beltran's attorney, said his client was highly intoxicated when he reported to police that he was robbed half a block from the hotel and did not knowingly give police incorrect information. Beltran now believes that he was robbed while passed out in the hotel.

Outside the hearing, Beltran declined to comment except to say that he had never been to the hotel until that night.

"I am innocent," he said, "and this legal proceeding is going to prove that."

Beltran appeared calm through most of the hearing but seemed to blush during some of the testimony.

The security guard said Beltran arrived at the hotel after 2 a.m. and went upstairs. Hines said he was not sure if Beltran was alone, but previous witnesses had said Beltran arrived with Ridgeway.

A few minutes later, Hines received a report of a man passed out upstairs.

He found Beltran on the floor, unconscious and heavily intoxicated, with his pants torn and pockets turned inside out, the guard testified.

When Beltran fled, Hines followed and saw him run to a car in a parking lot occupied by two men, he said.

Soon after, the same men arrived at the hotel and started knocking on residents' doors asking if they could help find the councilman's wallet and badge. "I'll give you $500 right now if you help me find the badge," Hines said one of the men told them.

Hines also testified that the men told at least one resident: "I can have 150 cops come up here and raid this whole hotel. We can ... take all you guys down."

Beltran then showed up and insisted that he had never been to the hotel. "I said, 'Yes, you were, sir. I woke you up just a few minutes ago,' " Hines testified.

After a few minutes, Beltran and the two men left without finding the wallet.

Hotel resident Charlene Stratten testified that she heard Beltran call Ridgeway, who is African American, by a racial slur, saying, "Do you know who I am? I'm a congressman."

Stratten said about 10 to 15 minutes later Ridgeway knocked on her door. She was hysterical, and her clothing was torn.

She showed Stratten two wallets, one of which contained a badge. "I saw the badge and was like, 'Whoa! Get that out of my house! What is that?' " Stratten testified.

Cohen's cross-examination of Stratten was at times heated, drawing from the woman that she had been convicted of prostitution four times.

When she smiled in the witness box, Cohen loudly asked her twice, "Is this a joke to you, ma'am?" to which she replied, "No, sir."

Cohen moved for a mistrial, arguing that testimony was ranging far afield from the charge of falsifying a police report.

But Judge Daniel Lowenthal denied the motion, saying a police report cited two witnesses who had seen Beltran with two prostitutes that night.

Beltran's trial resumes Monday.


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