Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 10, 2014
No campaign cash for fighting criminal charges, says Jerry Hill

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Politicians facing criminal charges would not be allowed to use campaign funds to pay their legal bills under an amendment Sen. Jerry Hill said he plans to introduce in the wake of the indictment of his colleague Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Under current law, politicians have wide latitude on how they spend campaign funds. Expenses have to have a legislative, governmental or political purpose, but can be used for everything from hiring campaign consultants and TV ads, to travel and paying legal bills.

Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, proposes several changes to the rules regarding how politicians can use campaign funds in his Senate Bill 831. Among them: prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members.

(Alert readers may remember that Sen. Ron Calderon, now indicted on corruption and money laundering charges, and his brother, former Assemblyman Charles Calderon have a history of using campaign accounts to pay for their Christmas gifts to each other.)

SB 831 would also place a new $5,000 cap on the amount of travel gifts officials could receive from nonprofit organizations, and require groups providing the travel to disclose their financial donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission. It's one of many ethics proposals to surface this year as the Capitol responds to a string of scandals.

Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

PHOTO: Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 4, 2014
Ron Calderon takes corruption defense to Twitter

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Suspended state Sen. Ron Calderon took to Twitter Thursday night, sharing, for the first time, a possible defense against the corruption and money-laundering charges he faces in federal court.

"Opinion by former prominent DOJ prosecutor," Calderon tweeted as he shared a legal journal article that spells out one lawyer's view of the weaknesses in the government's case against the senator. It was a rare tweet by the Montebello Democrat, who hasn't posted anything to Twitter since his Feb. 21 indictment and typically focused on ribbon cuttings and other community events before that.

Calderon repeatedly told an undercover agent posing as a film studio owner offering him bribes that he could not perform a "quid pro quo," says the Daily Journal article by Edward J. Loya Jr., an associate with the Venable law firm in Los Angeles.

"Moreover, Ron Calderon's statements suggest that he was genuinely motivated by the prospect of helping minority filmmakers and small business owners, like (the agent), who could benefit from the proposed film tax credit legislation."

Loya also wrote that Michael Drobot, a former hospital executive who is a cooperating witness for the government, may not be credible to jurors. Drobot owned a surgery center that specialized in back surgeries for people being treated through the workers' compensation system. Authorities accuse him of being part of the biggest insurance fraud scheme in California history for taking advantage of a loophole in state law that allowed hospitals to double-bill insurance carriers for surgeries involving spinal hardware. Drobot agreed to plead guilty to bribing Calderon to help him perpetuate the scheme. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, while Calderon faces almost 400.

"Drobot may come off to some jurors as a person who is trying to save his own hide by falsely implicating Calderon," Loya wrote.

He also wrote that the early leaking of the FBI's affidavit to Al Jazeera America is "another troubling aspect of the case" that could undermine the credibility of federal agents.

"Certain aspects of the government's undercover investigation... may seem troubling to jurors," Loya wrote.

Loya, who spent five years prosecuting corruption cases for the US Attorney's Office, said in a phone interview that he is not working for Calderon or his lawyer, Mark Geragos.

"When I learned about the indictment in February, I thought it was a very interesting case.
I noticed that a lot of the coverage was very one-sided," Loya said.

He said he was surprised to see Thursday that Calderon had shared his article on Twitter.

"I think he has some very good defenses. He has a very good lawyer," he said. "He should trust his lawyer's ability to defend him."

PHOTO: The Twitter page of suspended state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, on April 4, 2014.

March 28, 2014
Senate to vote shortly on fates of Yee, Calderon and Wright

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California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg moved to suspend three of his Democratic colleagues today who have been accused of crimes including corruption, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Two of them — senators Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills — have been on paid leaves of absence for roughly a month. But Steinberg said Thursday that the latest case involving Sen. Leland Yee has caused him to take things up a step by asking the Senate to cast a formal vote on the fate of their three disgraced colleagues. The senators would still be paid if suspended, because the Legislature's lawyers say they don't have the right to revoke pay unless a lawmaker is permanently expelled.

As the debate began, Steinberg said he understands the public concern.

"One is an anomaly. Two is a coincidence. Three?" he said. "I am calling on our entire body to take a deeper look at our culture."

He said he would cancel session on April 7 and conduct an "office-by-office ethics review."

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said Steinberg's move does not go far enough.

"Which is it today, more smoke a mirrors, more paid holidays for bad behavior?" he asked. "There should be only one measure on this floor...and that's to expel these members."

Yee, of San Francisco, became the latest state Senator to face criminal allegations when he was charged in federal court Wednesday with corruption and conspiracy to illegally import guns. A 137-page FBI affidavit alleges that Yee took numerous official actions as a legislator in exchange for contributions to his current campaign for secretary of state. The contributions, it turned out, were from undercover agents.

Yee was arrested Wednesday as part of a massive FBI sweep that involved more than two-dozen people accused of running guns, drugs, stolen liquor and cigarettes — and arranging murder for hire.

It was the latest turn in what's already been a tumultuous year for Democrats in the California Capitol. Last month, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Calderon on 24 counts of corruption. And in January, a Los Angeles jury found Wright guilty of perjury and voter fraud for lying about whether he lived in the district he represents.

Wright and Calderon both requested leaves of absence, so their colleagues in the Senate never actually cast a vote on their fate. Steinberg's move to suspend all three would require a majority vote by the Senate, and be an unprecedented action for the house.

A suspension is temporary, while expelling a legislator is a permanent ouster.

Steinberg said he does not think it's right to expel Calderon and Yee because they have not yet been found guilty. In Wright's case, Steinberg has said he is waiting to see if the judge upholds the jury's guilty verdict before taking an irrevocable action against him.

Steinberg plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to suspend members without pay, though that would have to be approved by voters before it could take effect.

PHOTO: Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk inside the Senate chambers in January 2014. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

READ MORE:

Sen. Leland Yee arrested, Capitol office searched by FBI

Ex-con 'Shrimp Boy' linked to Yee arrest was honored by elected officials

Yee's arrest upends contest for California Secretary of State

VIDEO: FBI raids Sen. Leland Yee's office, carts away files

READ: 'Uncle Leland' involved in arms deal, FBI affidavit alleges

Yee criminal complaint "Word Cloud"

VIDEO: Steinberg says Yee arrest leaves him 'extremely disappointed and upset'

March 10, 2014
Democrats block GOP move to suspend Wright and Calderon

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For the third time in less than two weeks, Democrats in the California state Senate have blocked Republican attempts to formally oust two Democratic senators who are involved in criminal cases.

The latest move came Monday after Senate Republican leader Bob Huff introduced two resolutions, one calling for the Senate to suspend Sen. Rod Wright and the other to suspend Sen. Ron Calderon. Republicans have previously asked for Wright to be dismissed but Monday was the first time they asked for a vote on Calderon's fate in the Senate. The resolutions, SR 34 and SR 35, call for temporarily removing the senators, with pay, until their legal cases are resolved.

Wright, of Baldwin Hills, has been found guilty of eight felonies including perjury for lying about whether he lives in the Inglewood-area district he represents. Calderon, of Montebello, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 24 counts related to corruption. Both men are on a voluntary paid leave of absence from the Senate.

"I believe we should have the opportunity to weigh in on something that is not breaking new ground... it's merely out there and codifying what's already been done," said Huff, of Diamond Bar.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, called the resolutions a waste of time and ordered them sent to the Rules Committee, where they could permanently stall.

"Another day here on the floor of the Senate, another drill," Steinberg said. "Senators Wright and Calderon have already left the building."

The Senate voted 22-12, largely along party lines, to support Steinberg's maneuver to delay action on the resolutions. Sen. Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat running for Congress, and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, a Stockton Democrat in a competitive district, joined Republicans in the vote.

Monday's votes followed an attempt on Thursday by Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, to permanently expel Wright, which Steinberg quickly shot down, and a similar effort by Anderson and three fellow Republicans the week before.

PHOTO: Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento speaks with Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff on Thurs., Feb, 27, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 27, 2014
Senate Dems delay Republican move to expel Rod Wright

Knight.JPGSenate Democrats delayed debate on a resolution to expel Sen. Rod Wright today by moving a Republican proposal to the Rules Committee, where it could permanently stall.

Sen. Steve Knight, a Republican from Palmdale, introduced a resolution to expel Wright from the Senate because a jury found him guilty of eight felonies last month for lying about living in the district he represents.

"This will be precedent setting," Knight said as debate on his measure was being quashed on a 21-13, mostly party-line vote.

"We have gone past any time period where someone has been convicted of a felony and not resigned."

Wright went on a paid leave of absence on Tuesday and has been removed from his committee assignments. Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg has said he does not want the Senate to permanently oust Wright unless a judge upholds the jury's verdicts at his sentencing, now scheduled for May 16. Wright is planning to ask the judge to overturn the jury's verdicts.

"Senator Wright has already left the building," Steinberg said during a speech on the floor, adding that he would not come back unless the judge overturns the jury's verdict against him.

Steinberg said that several Republican senators face allegations that they do not live in the districts they represent. He looked toward Senate Republicans as he quoted a passage from the New Testament in which Jesus says, "Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone."

PHOTO: Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 24, 2014
Ron Calderon is in custody awaiting arraignment

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Sen. Ron Calderon turned himself into authorities this morning and is now in custody awaiting arraignment on corruption charges this afternoon in Los Angeles.

Calderon will be arraigned sometime after 2 p.m., said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the United States Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the case.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Calderon on 24 criminal charges including bribery, money laundering and tax fraud, and indicted his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, on seven counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Tom Calderon was arraigned Friday and pleaded not guilty. Authorities said Ron Calderon was traveling on Friday and agreed to turn himself in today.

Ron Calderon's lawyer, Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos, said he would have a statement later today.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon speaks to the media outside the Senate chambers on Monday, June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

February 21, 2014
Plea deal sheds light on 'massive healthcare fraud scheme'

MC_CALDERON_01.JPGIn announcing the indictment of state Sen. Ron Calderon on charges including money laundering Friday, federal authorities also released documents shedding new light on a spinal surgery billing scheme the California Department of Insurance called its largest-ever case of insurance fraud.

In a plea agreement, Michael D. Drobot, a Calderon connection and the former CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, admitted he conspired to pay kickbacks to dozens of doctors, chiropractors and others to refer thousands of patients to his hospital for spinal surgeries and other services.

According to the agreement, Drobot, used his own companies or those of conspirators to inflate the price of medical hardware used in the surgeries, then submitted the inflated bills for reimbursement. The services were paid for primarily through the Federal Employees' Compensation Act and California Workers' Compensation System, the filing said.

The spinal surgery matter's tie to Calderon came in a "stream of financial benefits" the government said Drobot provided to the lawmaker in exchange for his support on legislation concerning the ability of hospitals to charge workers' compensation carriers for the cost of medical hardware.

Before a change in California's workers' compensation law in 2012, hospitals could seek separate reimbursement payments for the cost of conducting spinal surgeries and for the cost of implants.

Drobot agreed to pay Calderon's son $10,000 per summer to work as a file clerk at defendant's company in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the government said. He also provided Calderon free flights on a private plane and took Calderon to "exclusive, high-end golf resorts" and to expensive dinners, according to the agreement.

February 21, 2014
Federal officials say Ron Calderon agreed willingly to wear 'wire'

MC_CALDERON_05.JPGFederal officials said in a court filing Friday that state Sen. Ron Calderon wore a "wire" to record two conversations with another, unnamed person, but canceled a third meeting shortly before the FBI raided Calderon's Capitol office last summer.

The document was filed in response to a November filing in which Calderon accused authorities of leaking an FBI affidavit against him after he refused to participate in sting operation targeting other lawmakers.

The government said in its filing that the accusation is baseless.

"Calderon never refused to make the recordings and, at one point, he even encouraged the FBI agents to set up a meeting with the individual 'soon,'" the government filing said.

The filing comes as federal authorities announced a noon press conference in Los Angeles to announce they are filing charges in a political corruption case that sources said will involve Calderon.

It has been nearly four months since Al Jazeera America published a leaked affidavit alleging Calderon accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive.

The government's filing Friday said two FBI agents told Calderon at a hotel in Las Vegas in May that they worked for a public corruption squad and had been investigating him "for quite some time."

February 21, 2014
Live blog replay: Coverage of FBI announcing political corruption charges

Check on coverage by The Bee's Laurel Rosenhall, David Siders, Chrisopher Cadelago, and Dan Walters of the FBI's announcement of specific political corruption charges that involve state Sen. Ron Calderon.

Click here to access the live blog from any mobile device.

February 21, 2014
Federal prosecutors to announce political corruption charges at noon

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Federal authorities have announced a noon press conference in Los Angeles to announce that they are filing charges in a political corruption case that sources said will involve Sen. Ron Calderon.

The announcement comes eight months after the FBI raided Calderon's Capitol office and nearly four months after Al Jazeera America published a leaked affidavit alleging the lawmaker had accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive.

The 124-page affidavit laid out two major policy areas under investigation: Tax breaks for film productions and the rate at which hospitals that treat workers compensation patients are reimbursed for performing spinal surgery.

It described an undercover agent asking Calderon to change California's tax credit program for filmmakers so that smaller productions would qualify for the credit. And it alleged that Calderon took bribes from Michael Drobot, the former CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, and tried to steer legislation in ways that would profit his business.

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January 14, 2014
Darrell Steinberg says Kevin de León will lead Senate

SteinbergKDL.jpgCalifornia Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today that "it is clear" Sen. Kevin de León will be the next leader of the state Senate.

"I think he will be a great leader. He's adept at both the policy and the political side," Steinberg said as he and de León emerged from a meeting of Senate Democrats this afternoon, in which the majority party discussed leadership of the house but did not take a formal vote.

"It was a good conversation and the caucus embraced my message. I think we're well on our way. I support Kevin very strongly," Steinberg said.

Steinberg said he told fellow Democrats that he intends to remain the leader of the state Senate until his term ends in November, and that he will call for a vote on de Leon's leadership after the budget is complete in June. It remains unclear whether another candidate will emerge, although Steinberg said he doesn't anticipate anyone else jumping into the race.

"I'm looking forward to leading when my time comes up," said de León, D-Los Angeles.

"I'm deeply honored to have his support and the support of my colleagues. I love the Senate."

The announcement came a day after Sen. Mark DeSaulnier said he was pulling out of the race because he plans to run for Congress this year. The Democrat from Concord is running for the seat vacated by Rep. George Miller, who announced his retirement Monday.

De León said Tuesday that DeSaulnier had given him his support.

Both de León and Steinberg have been accused by their colleague, Sen. Ron Calderon, of being the focus of an FBI sting. They refuted the allegation again Tuesday, saying Calderon is the sole target of the federal corruption investigation.

PHOTO: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, left, congratulates Sen. Kevin de León as they leave the Democratic caucus this afternoon. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

January 10, 2014
Snafu emerges in Ron Calderon's complaint against government

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A federal judge gave the federal government two months to respond after Sen. Ron Calderon filed charges in November alleging authorities leaked an FBI affidavit accusing him of bribery as retaliation for his refusal to wear a wire in a sting of two fellow state senators.

Those two months are up on Monday -- but don't expect any response from the government.

Turns out Calderon's lawyer, Mark Geragos, did not serve the complaint on the government back when he made the filing in federal court on Nov. 13. The court's 60-day timeline for the government to respond only kicks in once the complaint is officially served.

The Sacramento Bee left Geragos several messages this week to find out what was going on. He never returned the calls.

But he apparently did get around to serving the complaint that asks the court to hold prosecutors in contempt for leaking the 124-page affidavit, and says Sen. Kevin de Leon and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg are the subjects of the FBI's investigation.

"The complaint was not properly served on this office until this week," said an email from Thom Mrozek of the U.S. The US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

"Therefore, our response is not due until early March."

Jim Wedick, a former FBI agent who participated in a high-profile corruption sting in the Capitol in the 1980s, said the fact that Calderon's lawyer never served the complaint indicates it was an attempt to generate headlines more than a serious legal maneuver.

"It was a publicity stunt that blew up in their face," he said.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol on June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 31, 2013
California Latino Caucus closes one of its fundraising PACs

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The Legislature's Latino Caucus is ringing in the new year by severing ties to a political action committee that has attracted the attention of the FBI.

Yes We Can, one of two political fundraising accounts affiliated with the Latino Caucus, filed papers declaring its termination today, the last day of 2013. The PAC began the year by making a $25,000 contribution on January 2 to a nonprofit group run by a brother of Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Democrat who is the subject of a federal corruption investigation.

The contribution is described in a 124-page FBI affidavit that alleges Calderon took $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive. The affidavit suggests that the Latino Caucus PAC made the $25,000 contribution to Calderon's brother's group to settle a dispute between Calderon and state Sen. Ricardo Lara over who would chair the powerful caucus.

The affidavit describes a secretly-recorded conversation between Calderon and an undercover agent in which the senator says that he and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, planned to draw income from the group, a nonprofit called Californians for Diversity.

"Tom and I down the road, we build that up, we can pay ourselves," Calderon said, according to the affidavit. "Just kind of make, you know, part of living."

The contribution to Tom Calderon's nonprofit was the only "civic donation" that Yes We Can has ever made, according to its campaign finance filings. The committee accepted $299,200 in donations from interest groups in 2013, and spent almost $406,000. Expenditures included $260,000 in political contributions as well as roughly $48,000 to the Cordevalle golf resort, $46,000 to political fundraiser Julie Sandino and $25,000 to the Wilke Fleury law firm whose partner, lobbyist John Valencia, is treasurer of Yes We Can.

PHOTO: California State Senator Ron Calderon, right, comforts his brother former state Assemblyman Tom Calderon at a memorial service for Tom's wife Marcella Calderon in January 2012. Los Angeles Times/Genaro Molina

December 30, 2013
FPPC will not investigate Sen. Kevin de León

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California's political watchdog agency has decided not to open an investigation of state Sen. Kevin de León, and will instead investigate the political action committee that made a $25,000 contribution to a nonprofit group run by the brother of Sen. Ron Calderon, who is under federal investigation for alleged bribery.

"We opened an investigation into...the transaction itself and not against anyone specifically," said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the Fair Political Practices Commission.

"We are not targeting Senator de Leon."

Yes We Can, a political action committee run by the Latino Legislative Caucus, made the contribution early this year after a fight over leadership of the Latino caucus. Calderon, D-Montebello, was in line to become chairman of the influential caucus, but state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not want to give up the post.

A few weeks after the caucus voted to keep Lara as chairman, the PAC gave $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit group run by Calderon's brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

An FBI affidavit published by Al Jazeera America in October alleges that de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal between Calderon and Lara to settle the leadership dispute with the $25,000 payment. The affidavit quotes a conversation between Ron Calderon and an undercover FBI agent, in which the senator says he and his brother planned to draw income from the nonprofit group.

No charges have been filed in the federal investigation.

But based on allegations in the affidavit, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission earlier this month sent de León a letter saying it wanted more information about the contribution. The FPPC wanted to know whether it constituted a payment made at the behest of a government official, which has to be reported under California law.

De León maintained that he helped mediate the chairmanship fight but was not involved in any financial transactions.

"Senator De León did not request the contribution, did not recommend the contribution, and was not part of any vote or decision to make the contribution," the senator's lawyer, Stephen Kaufman, wrote in a letter to the FPPC.

Winuk said the FPPC found no evidence that de León behested the payment, but that he wants to open a broader investigation to see who directed the money be moved from the Latino caucus's political fundraising account to Calderon's nonprofit.

"Was it someone who needed to report it?" Winuk said. "And if so, did they report it?"

De León said in an email that he is happy with the outcome.

"I had nothing to do with the contribution and am pleased that after reviewing the evidence the FPPC quickly closed this matter," his email said.

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, left, with Sen. Ron Calderon, center, and Sen. Kevin de Leon, right, on the last day of the legislative session in September 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:17 p.m. on December 30, 2013, to include a response from Sen. Kevin de Leon.

December 5, 2013
FPPC asks Kevin de León about Latino Caucus contribution to Calderon group

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California's political watchdog agency is asking state Sen. Kevin de León for more information about a $25,000 contribution the Legislature's Latino Caucus made to a nonprofit group run by former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

A political action committee run by the caucus, called Yes We Can, made the contribution early this year after a fight over leadership of the Latino caucus. Calderon's brother, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was in line to become chairman of the influential caucus, but state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not want to give up the post.

A few weeks after the caucus voted to keep Lara as chairman, the PAC gave $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, the nonprofit run by Tom Calderon.

An FBI affidavit published by Al Jazeera America in October alleges that de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal between Calderon and Lara to settle the leadership dispute with the $25,000 payment.

The state's Fair Political Practices Commission today sent de León a letter saying it may initiate an investigation into the contribution. The FPPC is exploring whether it constituted a payment made at the behest of a government official, which has to be reported under California law.

De León's chief of staff said the senator helped mediate the chairmanship fight but was not involved in any financial transactions.

"Last year, Senator de León helped resolve a leadership dispute within the Latino Caucus," said an email from Dan Reeves.

"He did not ask that any contribution be made, nor did he recommend that a contribution be made to any Calderon-related organization as part of that resolution. We are confident that the FPPC inquiry will be resolved once they gather the facts."

No charges have been filed in the federal investigation.

The FBI affidavit quotes a conversation between Ron Calderon and an undercover FBI agent, in which the senator says he and his brother planned to draw money from the nonprofit group.

"We have this non-profit. It is called Californians for Diversity," Calderon says, according to the affidavit. "Tom and I down the road, we build that up, we can pay ourselves. Just kind of make, you know, part of living."

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, at left, Sen. Ron Calderon, center, and Sen. Kevin de León, right, in the Senate chambers on September 12, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

Letter to de Leon

November 14, 2013
VIDEO: Steinberg denies ties to hospital linked to FBI investigation

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Senate leader Darrell Steinberg today rejected a fellow senator's claim that he is the target of an FBI corruption investigation and said allegations in Sen. Ron Calderon's most recent court filing are "beyond the pale."

"I am not a target of this investigation, I am not a subject of this investigation," Steinberg said in a talk with reporters outside the Capitol.

Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello, filed a motion late Wednesday asking the federal court to hold the FBI and US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles in contempt for leaking an affidavit that alleges he accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a Long Beach hospital executive.

November 13, 2013
Calderon lashes out at Garcia; says 'all politicians live in glass houses'

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As a group of civic leaders from southeast Los Angeles began a press conference this morning to call for Sen. Ron Calderon's resignation, the besieged state senator released a statement blasting Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia for organizing the event and saying "what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office."

"In politics one expects politicians to act in their own interests. But it is still shocking to me when a politician acts out in such an opportunistic way as in the actions taken by Cristina Garcia. Without knowing the full story and waiting to hear all the facts in this case, she has assumed the role of judge and jury by calling for my resignation," says the statement from Calderon, a Montebello Democrat.

Garcia is the only state legislator to call for Calderon's resignation since an FBI affidavit made public last month alleged he's accepted $88,000 in bribes. Today Garcia gathered with the mayors of Norwalk, Montebello, Downey and Pico Rivera, as well as city council members from Bell and Commerce, to again ask Calderon to step down.

Garcia has a long-standing feud with the Calderon family; she beat the senator's brother Tom Calderon in her race for Assembly last year.

"During her campaign for State Assembly she said time and again that she was not a politician. She told the voters that she was going to be different. Soon after her election she confessed to the voters that she lied about having a PhD. She said that she made a mistake and was sorry for misleading the public about her qualifications. She asked the voters to give her the benefit of the doubt and to judge her on her actions as their new Assemblywoman," Calderon's statement today said.

During her campaign for Assembly last year, Garcia told the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that she had finished coursework for a PhD but did not yet have the degree, contrary to the way she had portrayed herself.

"I take full responsibility for using the term PhD instead of PhD candidate in my campaign literature. For that I humbly apologize and ask for the forgiveness and understanding of all the voters of the 58th Assembly District," Garcia said, according to the local newspaper.

Garcia lives in Ron Calderon's 30th Senate District, which means she could run for his seat if he stepped down. But because new district boundaries kick in during next year's Senate elections, Garcia could not run in the November 2014 race to replace him in what will then be labeled the 32nd Senate District. Garcia's chief of staff Tim Reardon has said she has no intention of leaving the Assembly.

Calderon's statement today concluded by saying his current problems could befall "anyone in public office":

"It is now clear that she is a politician after all - quite an ambitious one at that. I would not wish on my worst enemy what I have been going through. But I do hope that Ms. Garcia comes to understand that what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office. Sometimes one is better served to act in kindness than in self-righteousness because all politicians live in glass houses."

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, pauses during session in Assembly chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua.

November 12, 2013
California's Latino Caucus boots Ron Calderon from its board

20130311_HA_LEGISLATORS1424.JPGAlready bereft of his committee assignments, Sen. Ron Calderon has also lost his spot on the California Latino Legislative Caucus' executive board.

On the same afternoon that the Senate Rules Committee voted to dissolve Calderon's committee assignments, prompting a denunciation from the besieged legislator, the California Latino Legislative Caucus said Calderon would be lifted from the caucus's eight-member board. Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, will replace him.

"Unfortunately, recent allegations against one of our Caucus members, Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), threaten to overshadow our accomplishments and undermine the integrity of the Caucus as a whole," Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, the caucus's chair and a Rules Commitee member who voted to temporarily suspend Calderon's committee posts, said in a statement.

"We take these grave allegations seriously," Lara's statement continued. "While we make no judgment as to the veracity, we have a duty to protect the integrity of a distinguished Caucus."

Calderon's ties to the increasingly powerful Latino caucus have come under magnified scrutiny after the group appeared in an FBI affidavit alleging that Calderon accepted bribes. The affidavit claims that Calderon was involved in a leadership struggle that was ultimately resolved when the Latino caucus channeled $25,000 to an entity controlled by Calderon's brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, speaks with Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

November 12, 2013
Ron Calderon, stripped of committee assignments, rejects federal allegations

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After being stripped of his ability to participate in legislative committees, Sen. Ron Calderon on Tuesday denounced "false allegations and illegal acts" leading to his being disciplined.

While Calderon's statement did not explicitly make mention of an FBI affidavit alleging that the Montebello Democrat had accepted bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive, it faulted a "federal agency" for unfairly targeting Calderon. In his first direct rejection of the affidavit's version of events, Calderon defended his work in the Legislature, including his chairmanship of the Senate Insurance Committee, and again lashed out at the media.

"I have not been charged or convicted with any unjust doing, yet I am being treated by this committee and some media outlets as if I had," Calderon said in reference to the Senate Rules Committee. "The appropriate action to take would be to allow me to continue the work I was elected to do and to allow me to remain on my committee assignments."

The strongly worded statement followed the Senate's Rules Committee unanimous vote on Wednesday to remove Calderon as chair of the Senate's insurance committee, and remove him as a member of the banking, environmental quality and government organization committees. The committee also voted to disband a so-called "select committee" chaired by Calderon and focused on the film and television industries.

"Our job here is not to determine whether or not there have been any violations of criminal law," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who chairs the rules committee.

"Our job is to uphold the code of ethics of the Senate and the standard of conduct expected of elected officials. It is in an attempt to strike that balance that I believe this decision is not only sound, but it is necessary."

November 8, 2013
Ron Calderon calls request that he resign 'outrageous'

CristinaGarcia.jpgIn Sen. Ron Calderon's first public comments since an FBI affidavit alleging he accepted $88,000 in bribes became public last week, the Montebello Democrat blasted an assemblywoman who has been calling for his resignation.

"It is outrageous in a democratic society for Cristina Garcia, an elected official, to trample on the Constitution by making a mockery of the presumption of innocence, a fundamental right, and seek political gain by embracing the criminal acts of media outlets that violate federal law by revealing the contents of sealed federal documents," Calderon wrote in a statement emailed to the media.

He added that Garcia "would best serve her constituents by reviewing her notes from her eighth-grade civics class."

Garcia, a Democrat who defeated Calderon's brother Tom Calderon in the race for the 58th Assembly District, ran for her Assembly seat on a platform of ousting corruption in the Los Angeles city of Bell. She has been the only legislator who has publicly called for Ron Calderon to step down in the wake of the federal corruption investigation.

November 6, 2013
Steinberg seeks to remove Ron Calderon as Insurance chair

MC_CALDERON_02.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has asked the Senate Rules Committee to strip besieged Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, of his Insurance Committee chairmanship.

Fresh revelations of a federal investigation into Calderon surfaced last week with the publication of an affidavit, obtained by Al Jazeera America, charging that Calderon accepted bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film executive seeking legislation that would favor his business.

Steinberg reacted by removing Calderon from the California Film Commission. When asked whether Calderon should retain public office, Steinberg replied, "I certainly have my doubts."

Those doubts about Calderon's fitness have apparently solidified into the certainty that the Montebello Democrat should not be allowed to lead the Insurance Committee until the federal investigation is concluded. Steinberg announced Wednedsay that he was asking the Senate Rules Committee to nix Calderon's Insurance Committee chairmanship and remove him from his other committee assignments.

"I do not make this request lightly, nor do I judge the truth of the publicly reported allegations," Steinberg said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "I am concerned, however, about keeping Senator Calderon in his positions. The allegations, though yet unproven, are serious enough to cloud any interactions the Senator might have with colleagues, advocates, and the public on issues within his jurisdiction."

The Rules Committee is scheduled to consider Steinberg's request at a meeting next Tuesday. Since Steinberg oversees that committee, the decision to remove Calderon's committee assignments is likely a foregone conclusion.

Through a spokesman, Calderon declined to comment.

"Senator Calderon has no comment on that matter at this moment," said Mario Beltran, Calderon's communications director.

Editor's note: This post was changed at 3:05 p.m. Wednesday to include the comment from Calderon's spokesman.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

October 30, 2013
Ron Calderon FBI sting detailed in affidavit

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Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, accepted $60,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents during a wide-ranging probe into his conduct as a legislator, according to a 125-page affidavit published online Wednesday by cable news network Al Jazeera.

No charges have been filed against Calderon. But the document says the Democrat from Montebello worked with interest groups in a pay-to-play fashion, accepting money from health care and film industry representatives in exchange for promises to carry or amend legislation to their benefit.

The document details one instance in which Calderon hired a female undercover agent as a staff member as a favor to another undercover agent, although he was told she had few qualifications for the job. It says Calderon asked agents he believed to be in the movie-making business to provide money for his children, Jessica and Zachary.

"One way you could be a real help to (my daughter) is, you got any work?" Calderon said to the undercover agent posing as the film studio owner during a June 2012 dinner in Pico Rivera, according to the affidavit.

"I told you man, anything you can do, any help you could do for my kids is, is - you know that's that's diamonds for me. That's diamonds."

The agent was asking Calderon to change California's tax credit program for film makers so that smaller productions would qualify for the credit. Under a bill Calderon carried in 2009 and an extension passed in 2012, productions that cost at least $1 million and are shot in California can enter a lottery to get a tax break. The affidavit describes Calderon talking to the undercover agent about working to lower the threshold.

The Al Jazeera report comes months after federal agents descended on Calderon's office in a rare Sacramento spectacle. Since then, The Sacramento Bee has explored questions orbiting the powerful Calderon family's connections to a Los Angeles-area water district and scrutiny over former Assemblyman Tom Calderon's ties to a hospital, also the target of a federal raid, that relates to a broader debate over worker compensation.

PHOTO: Senator Ron Calderon speaks to the media outside Senate chambers on Monday June 10, 2013, at the State Capitol. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

October 23, 2013
Tom Calderon drops bid for California Senate

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Former Assemblyman Tom Calderon has dropped out of the race to replace his brother Ron Calderon in the state Senate next year.

"I'm not running," Tom Calderon said today in a phone call with The Bee.

"I just need to take time for myself and my family. I've been through a lot this year."

In June, the FBI raided the Capitol offices of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and attempted to contact Tom Calderon, who works as a consultant. Federal authorities appear to be looking into businesses that have ties to Tom Calderon. This year they subpoenaed the Central Basin Municipal Water District and raided the Pacific Hospital of Long Beach -- both businesses that have been clients of Tom Calderon's consulting practice. Ron Calderon, meanwhile, has opened a legal defense fundraising committee to cover expenses related to his "public corruption investigation."

Tom Calderon said today that he has not testified before a grand jury in the case and has had no contact with federal authorities in recent weeks.

July 3, 2013
California bill to restrict long-term school bonds moving again

SCHOOLS_0154.JPGLegislation to crack down on California school districts' issuance of long-term "capital appreciation bonds," which had stalled in the Senate after passing the Assembly, is moving again.

On Wednesday, the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, on a 5-0 vote, approved the measure, Assembly Bill 182, after its author, Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, softened its restrictions on the bonds.

The changes, however, did not placate school district representatives, who continued to oppose the measure, arguing that it will damage their ability to meet needs for new school construction and upgrading, especially in areas with relatively low levels of taxable property.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer pushed for the legislation, arguing that the use of the CABs, as they have been dubbed, puts local taxpayers on the book for interest payments to bond buyers that may be 10 times or more of the original loan amounts.

June 21, 2013
California state Sen. Ron Calderon sets up legal defense fund

Calderon-FBI.jpgWell-known for fundraisers at out-of-state golf courses and plush resorts, state Sen. Ron Calderon has a new reason to solicit money from friends, family and the interest groups that do business in California's Capitol.

The Democrat from Montebello has established a legal defense fund to cover expenses related to his "public corruption investigation," according to a letter Calderon filed with the secretary of state this week.

"These funds will be only to pay the attorney's fees and other legal costs related to the defense of the candidate as well as administrative costs directly related to compliance with recordkeeping and reporting requirements," says the letter signed by Calderon and Yolanda Miranda, treasurer of Calderon's committee.

The FBI raided Calderon's Capitol offices on June 4, the same day the agency attempted to contact his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon. Federal authorities removed several boxes from Ron Calderon's offices but have not said what they are investigating.

Calderon's new legal defense fund is not his first.

June 19, 2013
Tom Calderon speaks: 'No idea' why Ron's office raided

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In his first comments since an FBI raid on his brother's legislative offices, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon denied any wrongdoing in his work for a Southern California water agency he has advised.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided offices belonging to Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, two weeks ago. Tom Calderon, who is Ron's brother, told The Bee in an interview on Wednesday that he had "no idea" what the agents were searching for.

When asked whether he has been contacted by the FBI or the U.S. Attorney's office, Calderon declined to comment.

"I'm not going to talk about that," Calderon said. "It's a complicated issue."

Calderon's name appears on a subpoena recently served to the Central Basin Municipal Water District, a Los Angeles-area water agency which Calderon served for years as a paid consultant.

That brought fresh attention to allegations that Calderon helped steer a contract to a firm, Water2Save, for which he is a board member. Calderon dismissed the notion that he had any role in contracting decisions at the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

"You know, the enemies of Central Basin, I'm sure have talked to people and are making allegations of what my role was, but my role is my role," Calderon said. "I didn't make any decisions over there, I didn't advise the board directly. They made all the decisions."

Two of Tom's brothers, Ron and former Assemblyman Charles Calderon, served in the Legislature and carried legislation that would have affected the water district. Tom said he did not communicate with his brothers about the bills.

PHOTO: California State Senator Ron Calderon, from left, talks with California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, while former state assemblyman Tom Calderon talks with a friend at a memorial service for Tom's wife Marcella Calderon at the Montebello Applied Technology Center High School in Montebello on January 14, 2012. Los Angeles Times/Genaro Molina.

June 14, 2013
Feds subpoena So-Cal water district with ties to Calderon brothers

Calderon-FBI.jpgFederal authorities have served a subpoena at the Central Basin Municipal Water District in Los Angeles County, an agency that has come under scrutiny in the past for its close ties to former Assemblyman Tom Calderon and his brother, Sen. Ron Calderon, whose Capitol offices were raided by the FBI last week.

A spokesman for the water district would say little about the subpoena, and did not answer questions about what authorities were looking for and who they wanted to question.

"I can't comment on the particulars of it," spokesman Jospeh Lagaspi said. "This is all brand new to us."

The Los Angeles Times - which has reported on allegations of cronyism in the water district and its ties to the Calderon brothers - wrote today that the subpoena seeks "documents related to contracts awarded by the water district, invoices, purchase orders, voicemails and information related to how officials there accepted or rejected bids."

Favoritism in awarding contracts was a problem Michael Franchek said he saw at the Central Basin district when he lost a bid to a firm with political ties to district board members. Last week, when Sen. Calderon's Capitol offices were raided, Franchek said he had been interviewed by the FBI twice in recent months.

The Central Basin water district covers an area of southeast Los Angeles County that includes the city of Montebello, where Democrats Ron and Tom Calderon reside. Take a look at the Calderon family tree here.

Legaspi said Friday that water district officials plan to "cooperate fully with the authorities."

PHOTO: Earlier this week Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, addressed the media for the first time following the FBI's June 4 raid of his Capitol offices. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

June 10, 2013
Ron Calderon speaks: "My intention is to do my job"

calderon.jpgIn his first public appearance since the FBI searched two of his offices last week, Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, confirmed on Monday that he has retained counsel but declined to offer any details about the nature of the investigation.

Calderon asked that any inquiries be referred to his attorney, Mark Geragos, saying "I have a lot of my own questions." He said he remains committed to his work in the Legislature.

"My intention at this point is to do my job I was elected to do, attend my hearings, get my bills passed out of committee to the floor and do the work of the state," Calderon said.

The U.S. attorney's office has also been silent about the reason for the searches.

In a hint of the potential scope of the probe, Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said on Friday that he had received a subpoena and would appear before a grand jury in July.

Aides to De León said they believed the subpoena was linked to the Calderon searches but that De León is not a target of an investigation.

Another Los Angeles-area lawmaker, Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, declined to comment on whether he had received a subpoena when asked by The Bee on Monday morning.

PHOTO:Sen. Ron Calderon, D- Montebello, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo



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Capitol Alert Staff


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. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

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

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

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

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