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Bell Gardens councilman guilty of filing false report

Mario Beltran had claimed he was robbed, but witnesses said he was drunk. Police had the missing wallet. He will be sentenced in June.

March 24, 2007|Charles Proctor | Times Staff Writer

Bell Gardens City Councilman Mario Beltran was convicted Friday of filing a false police report claiming he was robbed, ending a weeklong trial that touched on sex, alcohol and racial slurs.

The charge stemmed from a night last June that began with Beltran drinking alcohol at a downtown Los Angeles club and ended with the councilman passed out in the hallway of a hotel used by prostitutes, according to witnesses.

With his wallet and City Council badge missing, Beltran later filed a police report that said he was robbed a block from the Huntington Hotel near Main and 9th streets, even though witnesses placed him at the hotel that night.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Maureen O'Brien argued that Beltran lied to police because he was embarrassed.

Philip Cohen, Beltran's attorney, said that his client was so drunk he experienced a "spot blackout" and that he reported to police all the facts he could remember.

Beltran, who is also a legislative aide to state Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), is scheduled to be sentenced June 26. He faces a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Cohen said he intends to file an appeal.

According to witnesses, Beltran left a party at the 740 Club on Broadway after 2 a.m. on June 28. He went to the Huntington Hotel, and at least one witness said he was with Sherrilynn Ridgeway, a hotel resident.

According to the front desk log, Beltran rented a room for $30.

Charlene Stratten, another hotel resident, testified that she heard Beltran use a racial slur as he pushed Ridgeway, who is black, up a staircase. Stratten said she heard Beltran shout, "Do you know who I am? I'm a congressman."

Ridgeway testified that Beltran groped her in the hotel hallway. She yelled for help, and several hotel residents rushed to her aid. During the ensuing scuffle, Beltran dropped his wallet and cellphone, and Ridgeway grabbed some of his possessions by accident, she said.

Cohen argued that no other witnesses testified that they heard Ridgeway yell or witnessed a scuffle. He said Beltran was probably robbed.

A few minutes after Beltran went upstairs, hotel security guard Antonio Hines testified, he found the councilman lying in the hallway, his pockets turned inside out and his left pant leg torn from his knee to his waist.

Hines said he helped Beltran up, at which point the councilman fled the hotel, zigzagging across a neighboring parking lot. Witnesses said he was yelling, in English and Spanish, "They robbed me! They robbed me!"

Hines said Beltran approached two men in the parking lot. A witness identified one of the men as John Solis, a La Puente councilman.

Several minutes later, two unidentified men arrived at the hotel.

One of the men told residents he was a police officer and that he was looking for Beltran's wallet and councilman's badge.

The two knocked on residents' doors and searched at least one room.

One of the men showed residents a wad of cash. "I'll give you $500 right now if you help me find the badge," Hines testified the man said.

At one point, Beltran joined the two men at the hotel but insisted he had not previously been there, according to witnesses. He left with the men without finding his wallet.

The next day, at the behest of Philip Wagner, Bell Gardens assistant city manager, Beltran filed a robbery report with the Bell Gardens Police Department, stating that a black male robbed him of his BlackBerry and wallet near the intersection of 8th and Main streets.

The report was forwarded to Los Angeles Police Department detectives, who had also received a sexual battery complaint filed by Ridgeway against Beltran.

Ridgeway had given Beltran's wallet and badge to Los Angeles police as evidence.

charles.proctor@latimes.com

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