SACRAMENTO — Ronald S. Calderon's knack for raising campaign cash and collecting gifts has attracted attention, often unwanted, since he arrived in Sacramento more than a decade ago. Now the Democratic state senator finds himself in the sights of federal investigators.
Authorities are looking into the Montebello lawmaker's "income stream," a law enforcement source familiar with the case told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
Calderon's ties to the Central Basin Municipal Water District in southeast Los Angeles County appear to be part of the inquiry. Two local city officials and a utility contractor told The Times that the FBI interviewed them about legislation written by Calderon, and about water district consulting contracts held by the lawmaker's brother Tom Calderon.
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One of the officials, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is ongoing, said "100% of what they were asking about" involved the Calderons and the water district.
The U.S. attorney's office and FBI remained mum about the investigation. On Tuesday, FBI agents raided Calderon's state Capitol office, carting away boxes and a weathered briefcase.
U.S. Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) said she has heard complaints for more than a decade from cities she represents about the agency's lack of transparency and questionable spending of public funds.
In particular, Napolitano questioned how the district spent $5.6 million in federal funds she helped secure to build infrastructure for a regional system to recycle water.
The district received a subsequent research grant from the Department of Energy in conjunction with HydroEarth, a Lake Forest-based water management firm. But instead of moving forward with the original proposal, Central Basin amended the project and opened it up for competitive bidding. Agency officials subsequently chose to partner with a different company, Water2Save, a firm that paid Tom Calderon, a former assemblyman, $140,000 per year.
"It was just ridiculous," she said. "This is ratepayer money. It's not the Central Basin's money."
Tom Calderon also had a $12,000-a-month consulting contract with the water district.
James Roybal, who in January took over as president of the water district's board of directors, said that earlier this year the agency decided not to renew that agreement.
"We wanted to get rid of contracts, some of which were outrageous," he said.
Roybal said that as far as he knows, no official at Central Basin has been interviewed by FBI agents as part of their investigation, and no records have been requested or confiscated by federal authorities.
Ron Calderon's attorney, Mark Geragos, denied that his client did anything wrong and accused federal investigators of being "out of control." Geragos said the documents seized by the FBI are protected by "legislative privilege."
Calderon, 55, could not be reached for comment. He did not appear at a scheduled Banking and Financial Institutions Committee meeting Wednesday.
Even before the federal investigation became public, Calderon and members of his family have drawn scrutiny for their overlapping political and financial lives. From 2009 to 2012, family members were paid more than $57,000 from campaign accounts held by Calderon and his brothers — Tom and Charles — and his nephew, Assemblyman Ian Charles Calderon (D-Whittier). More than half of that money went to Cameron Calderon, Tom's son.
In 2009 and 2010, Calderon's campaign paid his brother Tom $105,000 in political consulting fees through Tom's firm, the Calderon Group, according to secretary of state records.
Ron Calderon's daughter, Jessica, last year was paid out of three of her father's campaign accounts, records show.
Over the years, Calderon has managed to stand out in a Legislature awash in gifts from lobbyists. He was one of the few lawmakers to accept Lakers tickets from a developer after he voted to support an environmental waiver for a proposed football stadium in the city of Industry.
An Indian tribe, a pharmaceutical company, a telecommunications association and others have picked up the tab for his golf outings, which cost up to $420 a round, according to gift disclosures filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., the state's powerful prison guard union, and affiliated groups paid more than $4,000 for one of Calderon's summer golf outings at which other union-related groups bought the senator a $420 club, binoculars and other trinkets.
Calderon also received $820 in gift cards from a campaign account of his brother Charles, a former assemblyman. Calderon has created multiple accounts to collect political donations — his legislative accounts, a legal defense fund and a committee formed to support a potential run for state controller next year, when term limits will force him out of the state Senate.