News Column

FBI Raids Calderon, Calif. Latino Caucus

Jun 5 2013 8:23AM
Ron Calderon

FBI agents raided the offices of Sen. Ron Calderon and the Legislature's 24-member Latino Caucus on Tuesday as part of an undisclosed investigation originating in Los Angeles.

Agents who executed the search warrants in the late afternoon left Calderon's office shortly after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, carrying several boxes of material.

"Those warrants are sealed by order of the federal court; therefore we have no further information," said Tony Beard, the Senate's chief sergeant at arms, in a statement to the media. "The Senate has and will continue to fully cooperate with the agents in this matter."

Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, said the Democratic leader would not comment "because it is a law enforcement matter."

Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles, said the two office searches related to the same investigation. She declined to provide further details.

Calderon, D-Montebello, 55, a business-friendly lawmaker who belongs to a family political dynasty, is serving out his final two years as a representative of the 30th Senate District. Two of his brothers have previously served in the Legislature, and his nephew Ian Calderon now serves in the state Assembly.

Mark Geragos, Ron Calderon's lawyer, said prosecutors "have no case," and accused them of acting inappropriately in disclosing that the FBI was conducting a search.

"The U.S. attorney's office should be ashamed of themselves," he said. "They have no case, so what they do is they leak the sealed information in an effort to hassle innocent people, and that's all the comment I have."

When asked about the nature of the investigation, Geragos said, "What they're going after is anything to divert attention from their own misfeasance or malfeasance."

Calderon flirted with challenging Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez in a newly drawn House district in 2012, but dropped his candidacy after Sanchez secured the Democratic Party endorsement.

He chairs the Senate Insurance Committee as well as the Senate Select Committee on California's Film and Television Industries. Last year he authored successful legislation extending a program that offers tax credits to film producers.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2011 that a Los Angeles County water district had awarded millions of dollars in contracts to politically connected individuals, including more than $750,000 in consulting fees since 2004 to former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, one of Ron Calderon's brothers.

While the FBI declined to comment on the reasons for the searches, the Calderon name surfaced when agents this year interviewed a man who had complained about the way the Central Basin Municipal Water District awards contracts.

Michael Franchek said he was interviewed on two separate occasions within the last six months after he raised concerns that his firm, Ecogreen Services, was denied a contract the water district had indicated his firm was poised to receive. The contract instead went to a firm affiliated with George Cole, who was later entangled in a corruption scandal and ultimately convicted when he served as a Bell city councilman.

"To me it reeked of cronyism," Franchek said.

The second time he spoke with FBI agents, Franchek said, he noted that another firm had lost a contract with the Central Basin Municipal Water District to a firm called Water2Save, where Tom Calderon is a member of the board.

"The FBI didn't come to me and say we want to talk to you about Calderon," Franchek said. "I brought up the issue, and the agent seemed very aware of that having happened."

Former Assemblyman Charles Calderon, another brother of the senator, told The Bee he has not spoken with him since the search warrants were executed.

"I'm shocked," Charles Calderon said. "Right now we don't know any facts, and without facts you speculate about the worst. But I know Ron and ... I am very confident that he'll be able to work through this and that when the facts do come out they will show him to have not been involved in anything."

The Latino Legislative Caucus, comprising Latino Democratic lawmakers, has come under scrutiny in the past for declining to disclose information about donors to a nonprofit entity it controls called the Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation.

More recently, Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat who is chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus, canceled a Las Vegas fundraiser for himself and the Latino Caucus Leadership PAC. The event was to be hosted by Station Casinos, which has been lobbying the Legislature to approve a gambling compact for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians.

Recent filings show that the Latino Caucus Leadership PAC raised just over $74,000 in campaign contributions in 2013 through the start of May, with the largest coming from the plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly, a California real estate political action committee, NBC Universal and the Viejas tribal government.

Tuesday's FBI action at the Capitol is the first known raid since the late 1980s. That investigation led to 14 convictions on various corruption charges. Known as Shrimpscam, the scandal involved the agency setting up a phony shrimp company pushing a bill, leading to bribe solicitations.

In 1998, the FBI's newly appointed FBI agent in charge for Sacramento, James Maddock, made a high-profile debut at the Capitol, deploying agents to interview lawmakers, lobbyists and others and establishing a corruption hotline. No arrests resulted.

In 2004, an Oakland-based federal grand jury in 2004 launched a probe of then-President Pro Tem Don Perata, focusing on his business dealings and those of his family and close friends.

FBI agents raided the homes of both Perata and his son, Nick. In 2005, investigators subpoenaed Perata's Senate emails over a six-year period. Don Perata has not been charged.

Source: (c)2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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