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State Sen. Calderon was target of FBI sting, TV report says

The state senator's attorney says an affidavit cited by Al Jazeera TV network may be 'fabricated.'

October 30, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy and Anthony York
  • State Sen. Ronald Calderon listens to a question posed by a reporter during a June news conference in Sacramento. Calderon allegedly accepted more than $60,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent during an elaborate sting operation, according to a report by the Al Jazeera television network.
State Sen. Ronald Calderon listens to a question posed by a reporter during… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — State Sen. Ronald Calderon allegedly accepted $60,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent during an elaborate sting operation, according to a report by the Al Jazeera television network, which cited what it described as a sealed federal affidavit.

The money was in exchange for Calderon's efforts to expand tax credits available to the film industry and for hiring on the state payroll a woman purported to be the undercover agent's girlfriend — but who was also an undercover agent, according to the document, which the television network posted on its website.

Filed in support of a search warrant served in June on Calderon's Capitol office, the document said the agent believed Calderon had also engaged in conspiracy, mail fraud and extortion under color of authority, and indicated that wiretaps were used to collect evidence.

"There is probable cause to believe that Ronald Calderon, a California state senator, has committed the subject offenses by accepting approximately $60,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent ("the UC")," the affidavit says.

Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello whose family has been prominent in California politics for three decades, has not been charged with any crime.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the television report and whether the affidavit was official.

The document says there was also probable cause to believe that Calderon "participated in a separate bribery scheme with Michael D. Drobot," the chief executive officer of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach. The lawmaker allegedly accepted $28,000 from Drobot in exchange for "supporting legislation that would delay or limit changes in California's workers compensation laws."

Jeffrey Rutherford, an attorney for Drobot, denied the allegations involving his client. "Any allegation that Mr. Drobot engaged in wrongdoing with respect to Ron Calderon is baseless," Rutherford said.

The affidavit said one of the payments made by the FBI agent to benefit Ronald Calderon was $25,000 given to Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit formed by the senator's brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, in 2008.

Ron Calderon told the agent that he and Tom Calderon "intend to use that money when Ronald Calderon is no longer in public office," the affidavit says.

The alleged payments, which began in February 2012, the affidavit says, were from an undercover agent "posing as owner of a film studio in downtown Los Angeles that provides studio facilities to independent films and commercials."

Lawmakers told The Times that Calderon was often accompanied to social and political events in the past year by a man identifying himself as Rocky Patel, head of United Pacific Studios, a small independent studio in downtown Los Angeles. Patel gave a total of $10,800 in political contributions to Ronald and Tom Calderon in 2012 and early 2013, according to reports their campaigns filed with the state.

Patel posted a picture of himself with Ronald Calderon on his Twitter account in July 2012. The FBI declined to say whether Patel is the undercover agent mentioned in the affidavit.

The agent made nine $3,000 payments to Ronald Calderon's daughter, Jessica Calderon, who "has received these payments even though she has never done any work" for the undercover agent, the affidavit says.

Mark Geragos, an attorney for Ronald Calderon, challenged the Al Jazeera report.

"The only illegal act that is being committed is either by the government or by Al Jazeera," Geragos said. "The only illegal act I see is committed either by somebody who released a sealed affidavit or somebody who claims they got a sealed affidavit. Releasing a sealed affidavit is a federal crime."

Asked about the content of the affidavit, Geragos said, "My guess is it is fabricated and untrue."

The Times had reported earlier Wednesday federal investigators were looking at Ronald Calderon's proposal to expand tax credits for films made in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a Calderon bill last year that extended for two years California's $100 million in annual tax breaks for films made in the state. The credit is available to productions of $1 million or more after financing is secured and certain production tasks have been completed.

Separately, Calderon wanted to give tax breaks to productions of less than $1 million. He proposed that in a letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) on May 20. He also proposed a tax incentive for commercials filmed in California.

The affidavit quotes transcripts of recordings in which Calderon assures the agent he will be able to amend the film credit legislation. "I am in so tight with the pro-tem," he says. "He will do whatever I want."

Calderon did not succeed in expanding the tax credit last year. But, the affidavit says, he "continued to take official action on the UC's behalf by seeking to get the amendment introduced in 2013."

At an August awards event for Latino entertainers, the affidavit alleges, Calderon told the undercover agent, "I would not have pushed this hard if it wasn't for you."

Calderon told the agent the bribes were for his children, the document shows.

The senator agreed to hire the agent's girlfriend, without ever seeing her resume, if the agent would hire Calderon's daughter Jessica, the affidavit said. The undercover agent also contributed money toward the college tuition of Sen. Calderon's son, Zachary, who attends the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

"Any help you could do for my kids … you know that's diamonds for me," Calderon told the agent. "That's diamonds."

Times staff writers Ruben Vives and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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