Capitol Alert

Ex-California senator Ron Calderon to plead guilty to mail fraud

Prosecutors will seek a prison term of no more than 70 months for former State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, shown discussing an FBI raid on his Capitol office in 2013. Calderon agreed to a plea bargain on corruption charges.
Prosecutors will seek a prison term of no more than 70 months for former State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, shown discussing an FBI raid on his Capitol office in 2013. Calderon agreed to a plea bargain on corruption charges. Associated Press file

Capping a wide-ranging corruption case brought by federal prosecutors, former state Sen. Ron Calderon will plead guilty to one count of “mail fraud through the deprivation of honest services.”

In an agreement filed Monday by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, Calderon admitted to undertaking official acts in return for jobs for his children, trips to Las Vegas and tens of thousands of dollars for him and his brother. Several of those payments were sent via the U.S. Postal Service.

In exchange, the U.S. attorney will seek no more than a five-year, 10-month prison sentence for the 58-year-old Democrat from Montebello and drop the remaining charges against him.

The original 24-count indictment handed down in February 2014, which included counts of bribery, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns, had a maximum statutory sentence of 396 years in federal prison. Calderon’s maximum sentence is now up to 20 years’ imprisonment, three years’ probation and a $250,000 fine.

The agreement brings nearly to its end a three-year saga that began with a dramatic FBI raid on his Capitol office in June 2013. A sentencing date for Calderon, who had yet to appear in court by early Monday afternoon, is still to be determined. His attorney, Mark Geragos, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Calderon continued to serve out his final year in the Senate, even after the indictment was handed down, refusing to heed calls for his resignation. But he ultimately agreed to take an indefinite leave of absence, and when fellow Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was swept up in his own corruption scandal a month later, they were suspended from the Legislature with pay, a first in California history. Both termed out of the Senate that November.

The episode prompted a ballot measure allowing for the suspension of lawmakers without pay, which California voters approved last week, and the institution of a “fundraising blackout period” in the Senate during final budget negotiations and the last month of session, which members voted last month to reverse.

“This closes a sad chapter in the Senate’s history,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said in a statement. “We move on.”

Donald Heller, a Sacramento defense attorney, said Calderon likely settled because of overwhelming recorded evidence against him from government wiretaps during the undercover FBI investigation.

“It is clear and obvious that Ron Calderon was a corrupt and evil human being that totally abused his office,” said Heller, who represented lobbyist Clayton Jackson during a massive corruption scandal in the early 1990s that ensnared several members of the Legislature.

Though “he’s going to do a significant part of his remaining years in prison,” Heller added, the plea was a “good deal” for Calderon, who will avoid the much steeper penalties he faced going to trial.

Mail fraud constitutes a “scheme to defraud the public of its right to the honest services of the public official through bribery or kickbacks” that is carried out in part through use of the mail. Under the plea agreement, Calderon admits to:

▪  Securing a $10,000-per-summer job for his son at Pacific Hospital of Long Beach for three summers while his son was in college. He subsequently asked a fellow senator to introduce legislation preserving, and voted against legislation unfavorable to, workers’ compensation payments for a costly spinal-implant surgery often performed at the hospital. Owner Michael Drobot, who sought Calderon’s assistance, has separately pleaded guilty to a $20 million kickback scheme to fill the hospital’s surgery suites.

▪  Agreeing to help an undercover agent posing as a film studio executive try to lower the threshold on California’s film tax credit and get his purported girlfriend, another undercover agent, a position in Calderon’s district office. Over the course of several months, Calderon accepted $25,000, paid through a nonprofit he ran with his brother; about $12,000 worth of trips to Las Vegas; a $5,000 payment for his son’s college tuition; and a phony $3,000-per-month job with the undercover agent for his daughter, for which she was not required to perform any services. “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,” he told the agent, according to an affidavit.

▪  Causing the $25,000 payment to his nonprofit and five of those $3,000 paychecks to his daughter to be sent through through the mail.

Calderon’s brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, pleaded guilty last week to one count of money laundering for funneling some of the undercover agent’s bribes through his political consulting firm. Federal prosecutors will seek no more than 12 months in prison for him. He will be sentenced Sept. 12.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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