State Sen. Ron Calderon and his brother were indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple political corruption charges, including allegations the senator took more than $100,000 in cash bribes in addition to plane trips and dinners in exchange for supporting legislation, federal authorities announced today.
Calderon, D-Montebello, is expected to surrender to federal authorities Monday in connection with the charges included in the indictment, which was filed Thursday. The 56-year-old senator is accused of mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.
Tom Calderon, 59, is expected to make his initial Los Angeles federal court appearance this afternoon. He is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering for allegedly funneling bribe money through a nonprofit group and consulting company he operates, prosecutors said.
A spokeswoman for Ron Calderon’s attorney, Mark Geragos, said there was no immediate response to the indictment. The attorney has said previously there was no justification for the federal probe of the lawmaker.
According to the 24-count indictment, the lawmaker “would solicit and accept benefits, such as employment for his son, trips on privately charted airplanes, golf at exclusive, high-end golf resorts and meals at expensive restaurants” from Michael D. Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.
The alleged bribes were offered in exchange for the senator’s support of legislation that would delay or limit changes in California’s workers’ compensation laws, according to the indictment.
Drobot, 69, of Corona del Mar, was charged in a separate case with running a health care fraud scheme that federal prosecutors said involved millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks in exchange for referrals of thousands of patients who underwent spinal surgeries. Those operations led to more than $500 million in bills being fraudulently submitted to the state workers’ compensation system, prosecutors said.
Drobot has agreed to plead guilty to two counts and he faces up to 10 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ron Calderon is also alleged to have taken bribes from two undercover FBI agents and a businessman in a separate scheme to affect legislation to extend film-industry tax credits.
At one point in the investigation, prosecutors alleged, at least one cash bribe exchanged hands.
In that case, the senator is alleged to have solicited and accepted trips to Las Vegas, meals and employment for his daughter “with the understanding that such benefits were to influence” official acts in connection with the film tax credit. Prosecutors said Calderon agreed to support the film tax legislation in exchange for his daughter being paid $3,000 a month — a total of nearly $40,000 — for a job in which she performed no work.
Calderon also allegedly solicited a $5,000 payment for his son’s college tuition and $25,000 for Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit political group run by Tom Calderon.
According to prosecutors, the Calderons funneled money through Californians for Diversity and Tom Calderon’s consulting firm, and some of the cash went to Ron Calderon and his daughter.
Prosecutors also allege 15 overt criminal acts detailed in support of money laundering conspiracy charges.
“Senator Calderon is accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and using the powers of his elected office to enrich himself and his brother, Tom, rather than for the benefit of the public he was sworn to serve,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said.
“When public officials selfishly line their pockets, it’s up to us to hold them accountable,” Birotte said.
Ron Calderon was elected to the state Senate in 2006. His district includes Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Montebello and Whittier, along with other cities.
Born and raised in Montebello, Calderon worked in the manufacturing industry and as a mortgage banker and real estate agent before he was elected.
Tom Calderon, a former state assemblyman, was a longtime consultant with the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which has been linked to the federal investigation.
Ron Calderon faces up to 396 years in federal prison if convicted of all charges. Tom Calderon faces up to 160 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Both sentences are “theoretical” and unlikely, Birotte said.
Ron Calderon was stripped of his Senate committee assignments in light of the federal probe.
Bill Lewis, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said political corruption “robs us of trust in government,” adding that the Calderon probe is “ongoing.”
Birotte declined to say whether any other Sacramento lawmakers were being investigated.
Story Updated with new details 2/21/14 at 2:36p.m.