Monday, February 24, 2014
Ronald and Tom Calderon Indicted for Bribery, Money Laundering
Judicial Candidate Charles Calderon Mum on Charges Against Brothers
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, left, and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Bill Lewis speak at news conference Friday.
State Sen. Ronald Calderon accepted bribes, laundered money with the aid of his brother Tom Calderon, and aided his son in filing fraudulent tax returns, prosecutors charged in a 24-count indictment filed Friday in U.S. District Court.
Ron Calderon allegedly received $100,000 in cash, lavish trips and no-show jobs for his children in exchange for pushing legislation to benefit a hospital engaged in billing fraud and participating in a film industry tax scheme that actually was an FBI sting.
Prosecutors simultaneously disclosed that the former owner of the hospital has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and receiving kickbacks and will testify against Ronald Calderon and others.
Ron Calderon is charged with two counts of wire fraud, eight counts of mail fraud, four counts of accepting bribes, and two counts of aiding and abetting the filing of tax returns that were fraudulent. Ron and Tom Calderon are charged jointly with seven counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy.
Tom Calderon appeared in court in handcuffs, pled not guilty, and had bail set at $25,000. He was ordered to appear for trial April 15. Ron Calderon was expected to surrender today, prosecutors said.
State Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the Senate president pro tem, said Ron Calderon should resign from the Senate, or face suspension. He said he was speaking on behalf of the party caucus.
Charles Calderon Candidacy
The indictment, which was not unexpected, comes two weeks after another brother, Charles Calderon, filed a declaration of intent to run for an open Los Angeles Superior Court seat. He had not returned nominating papers for the seat, which would be required to place his name on the ballot, as of Thursday.
At the time of the filing, Calderon referred a phone call to his campaign consultant, Hal Dash, who claimed his client received a letter from prosecutors saying he was not a target of the investigation. But that letter has not been made public, and a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said on Friday he could neither confirm nor deny its existence because the office is “taking a ‘no comment’ posture on [the possible involvement of] anyone who is not named in the indictment.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, one of the prosecutors on the case, told the MetNews that “if [Charles Calderon] has such a letter, he should show it.”
Charles Calderon, a former majority leader of both the state Senate and the Assembly, did not return a phone call for comment.
Other candidates who have filed declarations of intent in that race are Deputy District Attorneys Efrain Aceves and Carol Rose and criminal defense attorney Andrew Stein. Stein had indicated before yesterday that he would run in another seat instead, and Aceves had indicated he was undecided about whether to stay in after the unexpected entry of Calderon.
Rose has retained a campaign consultant and said she would definitely run against Calderon, a proficient political fundraiser in the past.
Birotte laid out the indictment at a Los Angeles news conference.
“When public officials choose to callously betray the trust of the people they serve and selfishly abuse the privileges of public office, then we will take all necessary steps to hold those persons fully accountable for their behavior,” he said.
The charges come after a of a long-running corruption investigation that tarnished the state’s majority party — Democrats hold every statewide office and control both chambers in the Legislature. The charges also threaten the patriarchs of a family that rose to political prominence from the heavily Hispanic, working-class communities southeast of Los Angeles.
“Because they knew how to run elections and they knew how to speak to a newly incorporating group, Latinos, they knew how to get people elected,” said political scientist Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. For any would-be candidate around their home base “you needed their support.”
Denial of Wrongdoing
Ron Calderon has denied wrongdoing. His attorney, Mark Geragos, did not return repeated telephone messages Friday. Tom Calderon’s attorney, Shepard Kopp, said his client would plead not guilty and fight the charges.
“Every single action they describe my client as having taken was done with innocent intent and no knowledge that there was anything illegal about any of these acts,” Kopp said in a telephone interview. “The indictment alleged that he knew that there were payments being made that were bribes or money that was being paid so that he would take some kind of legislative action. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The indictment details a rampant pay-to-play culture in which Ron Calderon used his influence in the Legislature to extract money or other financial benefits from those who wanted favors.
Those bribes, prosecutors said, included trips to Las Vegas, flights on privately chartered planes and jobs for Ron Calderon’s son and daughter in which they were paid but did little, if any, work. The film studio, an FBI ruse, hired his daughter for a $3,000-a-month job, and a Long Beach hospital executive involved in the medical scam hired his son for three summers at a rate of $10,000 per summer, the indictment said.
The indictment alleges Ron Calderon took money from an undercover FBI agent who posed as the owner of a Los Angeles movie studio and sought Calderon’s help promoting a bill that would expand tax credits for the film industry.
A related filing in Sacramento federal court said Calderon flew to Las Vegas on May 4 to meet with two undercover agents, one of whom he believed was the owner of the film studio in Los Angeles and the other whom he thought was a film investor. He was met at the Bellagio Hotel by two other FBI agents who “explained to Calderon that they worked for the FBI’s public corruption squad and had been investigating Calderon for quite some time.”
He was interviewed for about three hours but was not arrested.
“The FBI agents offered Calderon the opportunity to cooperate in their investigation but made it very clear that they were prepared to move forward with their investigation if Calderon turned down their offer,” according to the filing.
“Despite his purported desire to cooperate with the government, Calderon claimed that the information he could provide to the FBI agents would be of little value,” the filing says. Agents met with him five more times in May.
Ron Calderon repeatedly offered to wear a transmitting device, though he said he would not record family members. He did record one person on two occasions, the filing says, though it does not say if the person was a public official. Those recordings did not result in any charges, the filing says.
Calderon claimed he was ill on the day he was supposed to record the person for a third time, and broke off his cooperation, the filing says.
The indictment also says Ron Calderon accepted money from the Long Beach hospital executive, Michael D. Drobot, to promote legislation that would have been favorable to the hospital.
Bills related to both issues never made it out of the Legislature.
Calderon was stripped of his legislative committee assignments in November, and the Senate Select Committee on Film and Television Industries that he chaired was disbanded.
After that action, Calderon responded by trying to tar the Senate’s two leading Democrats. His attorney filed documents in federal court in Sacramento saying a raid on his Capitol office came after he refused FBI requests to wear a recording device and act as an informant against Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles.
Steinberg and de Leon, who is in line to succeed Steinberg as the Senate’s leader later this year, have said federal prosecutors have told them they are not targets of the investigation at this time.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company