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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


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