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California senator charged in big corruption case

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A California state senator was charged Friday with accepting $100,000 in bribes, 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.

The 24-count federal indictment against Sen. Ron Calderon, a Democrat from a politically prominent family in Los Angeles' blue-collar suburbs, depicts a rogue legislator eager to trade his clout at the state Capitol to enrich himself and his family. His brother Tom, a former state lawmaker-turned-lobbyist, was charged with money-laundering for funneling bribes through a tax-exempt group he controlled, prosecutors said.

"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," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said.

The charges come after a long-running corruption investigation that has 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."

Ron Calderon has denied wrongdoing. His attorney, Mark Geragos, did not return repeated telephone messages but planned to issue a statement later Friday.

Tom Calderon's attorney, Shepard Kopp, said his client would fight the charges. Tom Calderon appeared in court in handcuffs on Friday and pleaded not guilty to seven counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to launder money. His bail was set at $25,000 and he was ordered to surrender his passport, stay in the continental U.S. and appear for a jury trial starting April 15.

"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."

If convicted on all counts, Ron Calderon could face nearly 400 years in federal prison. His brother, if convicted, could face a maximum penalty of 160 years in confinement, prosecutors said.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, speaking on behalf of the chamber's Democratic caucus, called on Calderon to resign or take a leave of absence.

"Given the seriousness of charges that strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official, Senator Calderon's continued service is a cloud over all the important work that we must get done this year," Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a statement.

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 a Long Beach hospital executive 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, the Senate president, and Sen. Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, another Democrat.

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.

In the midst of an election year, it was difficult to gauge whether other Democrats could suffer political fallout from the Calderon case, said San Jose State University political science professor Larry Gerston. Another Democrat, Sen. Roderick Wright, was convicted last month of voter fraud and perjury for lying about the location of his Los Angeles County residence. He has been allowed to remain in office while awaiting sentencing in May.

"I think it certainly gives Republicans an opening to talk about the 'culture of corruption' that results with one-party government," Gerston said. "Just how much damage it does is hard to tell, but I'd clearly like to be in the Republican camp rather than the Democratic camp because they're clearly on the defensive."

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kensucharski February 22 2014 at 9:01 PM

Perhaps the NSA should be listening to our politicians.

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mike February 22 2014 at 8:23 PM

usual news from ca

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earthsafe February 22 2014 at 5:49 PM

I just pay taxes in Ron Caleron's district. Ian Calderon is my representative in the Assembly; most constituents in my district do not realize he is the new generation in the family business.

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mlp7595 February 22 2014 at 4:00 PM

The CA democrap party is one the most corrupt in the US and rivals Marxist third world banana republics. They are a disgrace to all things politic. They have run the richest state in the US right straight into BK and this monster is a great example of why. CA is a cesspool of corruption and all the big chunks float to the top with Moonbeam as the biggest chunk and this moron a close second. They should hang Calderon by the balls and never let that piece of garbage see the light of day.

P.S. Mark Geragos is the perfect lawyer for that POS

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Alberto Canillas February 22 2014 at 3:58 PM

this guy took 100k in bribes and trips LOL! Not even 100k in cash? Are you kidding me ??? it cost more in tax payer dollars to run the sting operation to catch the guy!!! and now you want to waste more tax payer dollars to prosecute him in the court system,how much will that cost us citizens??? then if found guilty we have to house him and his brother for the rest of their lives at what cost$$$$$$to us common folks ...........WOW .........where has the common sense went????

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2 replies to Alberto Canillas's comment
mlp7595 February 22 2014 at 4:10 PM

right, what's the big deal? 24 counts of bribery and money laundering, no big deal. Let's focus on a Repub closing lanes. Perfect Marxist logic

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1 reply to mlp7595's comment
Alberto Canillas February 22 2014 at 6:14 PM

democrats,republicans,independents,tea party or whatever we just need more leaders with more "common sense" and of course he needs to be punished you can pick that up in the comment i left but not to the tune of wasting more tax payers funds than he stole, unless of course they can figure out a way to make the criminal pick up the tab :-)

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BARRY AND KATHY February 22 2014 at 5:07 PM

''Gone'' not '' went''.

So if the money doesn't work out right, we just let everyone keep on screwing the public?

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1 reply to BARRY AND KATHY's comment
Alberto Canillas February 22 2014 at 6:06 PM

gone ,went,or goodbye just like the money, fire the guy and get the taxpayers funds back through restitution (is that proper grammar) dont keep wasting taxpayers money.

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mrscdel February 22 2014 at 3:51 PM

dont be fooled.....the DEMOCRATIC PARTY is going after "expendable" democrats in an effort to do damage control on lost votes over the attack on the constitutional rights of US CITIZENS...the assault on the people by the IRS....the invasion by the NSA....the illegals being given the REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH ..........worked for by AMERICAN WORKERS......CORE LIES....OBAMACARE THAT IS GOING TO WIPE OUT the top medical care in the world and the fact that he has sent HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS to the muslim brotherhood and not given it to the US CITIZENS.

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1 reply to mrscdel's comment
BARRY AND KATHY February 22 2014 at 5:11 PM

Probably the stupidest part of your comment is in not stating that that 'top medical care in the world'' Is, unfortunately, out of reach of the majority of Americans because of the COST.
There is NO reason to ''wipe out'' anything if medical care weren't so overpriced.

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tcous13974 February 22 2014 at 3:50 PM

And the Idiot Californians keep putting these crooks in office. Just look who the Governor is. Looney Brown.

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totalstudentsvcs February 22 2014 at 3:48 PM

F A N T A S T I C - Now use the same tactics on Chris Christie , Bill Deblasio and Andrew Cuomo !!

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mrscdel February 22 2014 at 3:46 PM

Feinstein made BILLIONS selling arms to a war she voted yes to. Her billions got her off the profiteering charges long with AL GORE....and all the other democrats who "invested" in it. MIchelle obama's Boss VALERIE JARRET while working at a hospital in Chicago were given 300k plus raise the day after BARRY became a Democratic Senator. And so it goes....on and on.

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Stephen February 22 2014 at 3:42 PM

Just great - the Republicans are evil and the Democrats are corrupt. The conservatives are crazy and the liberals are nuts. The Tea Party is an enemy of the people and Independents ae just republicans in drag. Yup, they represent us alright.....

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2 replies to Stephen's comment
mlp7595 February 22 2014 at 3:51 PM

this article is about 24 counts of bribery and money laundering by the DEM in the one party state of CA. The best your Marxist buddies can come up with is a Rep closing a lane in NJ and your networks CNN and MSNBC play that endlessly. Have you seen a report on this monster in CA. Huff and Puff reported it. Nope. I would say the Dems are the evil party and the Repubs are the stupid party. Makes much more sense.

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BARRY AND KATHY February 22 2014 at 5:13 PM

I kind of like how that flows. If you could get someone to write the music for it, I think you might have a hit.

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