Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

October 31, 2013
FBI seeks investigation of source of leaked affidavit

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Earlier today, we pondered one of the many questions raised by last night's bombshell story on an FBI affidavit implicating Sen. Ron Calderon, D Montebello: Who leaked this information?

Reporters who have invested considerable time on unraveling the potential case against Calderon since federal agents swooped down on the senator's office back in June, so they would love know how Al Jazeera America -- not typically a major force in the Capitol press corps -- got the scoop.

As it turns out, the FBI would be interested in an answer too.

In an email to reporters, FBI Los Angeles field office spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said she could neither confirm nor deny details of the Al Jazeera America report first detailing allegations in the affidavit. But she said the FBI is looking into the report's source.

"I realize that many of you have questioned the suspected unauthorized disclosure of a sealed court document," Eimiller wrote. "In response, I can confirm for you that this matter has been referred to the appropriate authorities at the Department of Justice for investigation."

PHOTO: Tony Beard, the Senate's chief sergeant at arms escorts FBI agents to Senator Ron Calderon's office at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, California on Tuesday night, June 4, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.

October 31, 2013
California Sen. Ron Calderon removed from Film Commission

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By Christopher Cadelago and Jon Ortiz
Bee Capitol Bureau

Sen. Ron Calderon, accused of accepting more than $60,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio owner, was removed today from the California Film Commission.

"If for no other reason the appearance of impropriety dictates that the senator no longer sit on that commission," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Calderon, D- Montebello, may also lose his posts on the remainder of his committees, including his chairmanship of the Senate Insurance Committee, Steinberg said.

"I certainly have my doubts," Steinberg said when asked whether Calderon should continue to serve in public office. "This is serious stuff."

The Sacramento Democrat said he was reluctant to dignify any of the more "off-the-wall" claims attributed to Calderon in a 124-page affidavit leaked to the news media. But he said it was important for him to set the record straight since his name was mentioned on several of the pages.

Steinberg said he has cooperated with authorities but is not a target of the investigation.

According to an affidavit, Calderon, told an agent posing as the film studio owner that he could influence film industry tax legislation that would lower the production-cost threshold for movie-makers to qualify for a tax-break. Earlier, Calderon had asked the undercover agent to secure jobs for his children.

Calderon invoked his personal relationship with Steinberg during the discussion, saying that the Senate's most powerful Democrat supported the bill, according to the FBI affidavit.

"Just the fact that (Steinberg) is behind pushing lowering the threshold, is huge. It's huge. And he did it because of our relationship," the FBI alleged. "And, I helped him, he helped me."

Steinberg said the film measure was never heard in committee and "neither I nor the Senate Democratic Caucus supported Senator Calderon's film tax credit proposal."

A month later, Calderon told the undercover agent that he had given Steinberg two VIP tickets to a San Francisco Giants baseball game and two tickets to oil industry executives so they could meet the Senator at the game and support his campaign.

Steinberg said that he disclosed the tickets on legally-required gift reports and that they had cost $37.50 each. (High-end seats at AT&T Park run $250 or more.) "I attended with a personal friend and at no point did I talk to or interact with anyone about any of the issues that were made in his ... claims," he said.

The affidavit also alleges Calderon hired a undercover agent as a staff member as a favor to another undercover agent, even though she lacked qualifications for the job.

Steinberg said Calderon "made a routine request" for an additional clerical position in his district office that was processed "through normal channels.

"As always, I have no involvement in who is selected by Senators to fill these staff positions. As I've been informed, once it was discovered that person did not show up for work, Senate personnel acted swiftly to demand and receive full reimbursement."

Steinberg said he hasn't talked to Calderon about the FBI investigation since June and wasn't aware of what would follow. He said the allegation that any of his elected peers would take money in exchange for an official action was "obviously beyond the pale."

But, he added, he only knows what he's read.

"People have the right to their due process and ultimately due process in at least the criminal context is through a court and before a jury of your peers," he said. "And, yet, I do want more information even before that might come to pass regarding what's in this affidavit and if it in fact is true."

PHOTO: Sen. Darrell Steinberg. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

October 31, 2013
More tidbits from the FBI's Calderon transcripts

aff.JPGFor those without time to read the 100-plus pages of the affidavit in the Ron Calderon case, here are a few of the notable passages:

Hiring a new legislative staff member

The transcript contains this exchange between Ron Calderon and an undercover agent, who asked him to hire his supposed girlfriend - actually another undercover agent.

Ron Calderon: So. If you wanna give her a shot in the district, I will see what I can do.
Agent: Okay. Let me kind of spell it out.
Calderon: Yeah.
Agent: So, her modeling thing...
Calderon: Yeah.
Agent: ...isn't working out the way she wanted
it to.
Calderon: Okay.
Agent: She is a little discouraged.
Calderon: Yeah.
Agent: And, it would mean, I think, a wonderful world to her if you talk to her on the 28th and were able to say, hey, we'd love to have you. Come in,
work for us.
Calderon: Okay. All right.
Agent: She comes with, you know, issues.
Calderon: Yeah,
Agent: It is not a big thing. But, if you are
willing to take that on... --
Calderon: Every girl has issues.

Hiring Jessica Calderon

In the chronology the affidavit lays out, Ron Calderon asks from the start about finding a way to support his daughter Jessica, telling the agent that "any help you could do for my kids" is "diamonds."

Jessica had been working as a line producer for the film American Gigolo 2, Ron told the agent. It would be a small-budget production, but the agent suggested the project could be made if the minimum film budget for winning film tax credits was lowered - a change Ron continually pushed for, communicating with the agent the entire time.

After the agent agreed to put Jessica on his payroll, doling out payments of $3,000 apiece, he remained unequivocal about his reasons for hiring her.

"Me hiring Jessica was not about her talent, right?" he told Ron Calderon, according to a recording cited in the affidavit. "It was more about accommodating something you needed." According to the affidavit, Calderon replied, "Right."

The high cost of higher education

The transcript says that Calderon held multiple conversations with an undercover FBI agent about his need to pay for his children's higher education.

"...All I need her to do is make enough money to pay for her - the rest of her schooling, which isn't a lot..." Calderon is quoted as saying, "and then buy her own insurance which is about four hundred, five hundred bucks a month...if she could work two-three days a week for you and make, you know, um, twenty five hundred bucks a month..."

At a meeting on Nov. 2, 2012, Calderon told the agent he needed $5,000 for a tuition payment for his son Zachary. He also noted that lawmakers' pay would be reduced, the result of an action by the California Citizens Compensation Commission.

"This particular semester coming up for Zach, um, they raised the fees and my salary is going down in December another five percent...I was gonna ask you one of two things. One, um, I need 5, I'm going to be short 5..."

He said one possibility was a loan from the agent, which he could pay back in March. The other was a direct payment from a $50,000 pot of money the agent said was available to him.

"Maybe," the affidavit quotes Calderon as saying, "we can get a $5,000 check to Berklee College of Music and Zach just turns it in."

The affidavit says that ultimately the agent gave Calderon a $5,000 check with the payee portion left blank.

October 31, 2013
How did media get the FBI's court-sealed Calderon papers?

Thumbnail image for Calderon-FBI.jpgAmong the many unanswered questions in the developing Ron Calderon corruption investigation: Just how did the media get hold of a FBI affidavit that lays out the details of the case?

James J. Wedick, a former FBI special agent who led another Capitol uncover sting in the 1990s, attributed it to carelessness.

"I find it hard to believe that an FBI agent would give someone that document," said Wedick, who lives in Gold River and was a source for the Calderon story that Al Jazeera America broke on Wednesday.

The 124-page document was filed with the court under seal to obtain a search warrant for the raid on Calderon's offices in June. But the Qatar-based news network published a redacted version online. (Capitol Alert has it posted here.) It's a treasure trove of detailed allegations that the Democratic state senator from Montebello sold his position and influence for money and favors.

But it probably wasn't leaked, Wedick said. More likely, a copy was accidentally left where someone found it.

"I guess you could say it's possible the document was leaked," he said. "but I would doubt that somebody would purposely take that document and release it."

Wedick recalled that when he headed up the "shrimpgate" undercover sting in the late 1980s that snagged 12 public officials using a phony shrimp business to expose corruption, that he carefully guarded his investigative documents. Wedick routinely summarized reports and parceled out pages, he said, with only information his agents needed for their particular part of the probe.

"I never thought that anyone would leak the documents," he said, "but I worried they might accidentally leave them somewhere,"

Nancy Savage, executive director of the Virginia-based Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI agreed, noted that federal law makes leaking an FBI affidavit a felony.

But if the document wasn't leaked, why was it redacted?

"Al Jazeera's lawyers did that," Wedick said, out of concern that leaving certain portions untouched would leave the network open to a lawsuit.

The FBI has not commented on the leak or whether there will be an investigation.

October 31, 2013
Hollywood interests pony up for Steinberg

steinberg.JPGTiming is everything in politics, although not always in a good way.

On the same day Al Jazeera America broke the story of a Hollywood-themed FBI sting ensnaring state Sen. Ron Calderon, a campaign committee of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg reported several contributions from Tinsel Town movie interests.

Steinberg's 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor collected more than $27,000 in donations from director Steven Spielberg, his wife Kate Capshaw, Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn Katzenberg, according to a filing with the secretary of state's office.

Steinberg is mentioned several times in a 124-page FBI affidavit in which Calderon allegedly tells an undercover FBI agent that Steinberg supports his effort to lower the threshold on the state's film tax credit. Steinberg has not been implicated in the case.

"The senator is proud to be supported by thousands of Californians, including these individuals," Steinberg spokesman Jason Kinney said of the donations. "As is our strict policy, there was absolutely no connection between this outside fundraising and any policy or pending legislation."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua

October 31, 2013
AM Alert: Zombie bills haunt corridors of California Capitol

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In the spirit of today's celebration of all things ghostly, we thought it might be instructive to reflect today on some of California's zombie bills: issues that seem to come back to life on an annual basis after being left dead the prior session.

One notorious example at last joined the realm of living laws this session: after years of trying, Democrats were finally able to push across a bill offering driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Former state lawmaker Gil Cedillo can now rest in peace (figuratively speaking).

But others perished, perhaps to await resurrection in January. For the second straight year, Sen. Mark Leno's bill to allow misdemeanor charges for minor drug possession failed, as did legislation seeking to streamline the process of firing teachers; the push to create a state-level agency to regulate marijuana gave up the ghost; and the quest to institute an oil extraction tax, propelled this time by ominous warnings about a coming boom in the Monterey Shale, suffered a familiar fate.

Then, of course, there is the unremitting battle over changing the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. Barring a legislative solution, MICRA reform could lurch its way to the ballot box come 2014.

TRICK OR TREAT: As if observing democracy up close isn't scary enough, offices in the State Capitol will be participating in the autumnal festivities today by offering up Halloween treats. It's unclear how many people will participate in the staffers-only event, or whether people will swap their recess-casual wear for costumes, but a staffer organizing the event assures us that, at a minimum, Shrek will be stalking the corridors; we're wondering whether the politically besieged Sutter Brown will get into the act.

TAXING TIMES: In California, "tax revolt" is a phrase typically associated with the anti-taxation ferment that led to the passage of Proposition 13. UC San Diego professor Branislav L. Slantchev will offer a broader and wonkier look today, laying out his research during a UC Center Sacramento talk on the general functioning of tax rebellions. From noon to 1:30 p.m. at 1130 K Street.

PHOTO: People dressed as zombies gather at Sub Q Piercing in midtown for a series of zombie related activities, starting with "zombies face off" where fx artists compete in horror makeup. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Cruz.



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Capitol Alert Staff


Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. ccadelago@sacbee.com. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert. mmassimino@sacbee.com

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. lrosenhall@sacbee.com. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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