Update: Calderon targeted in Hollywood bribery sting; leak under investigation (timeline)
New details have emerged in a federal affidavit alleging that State Sen. Ron Calderon received about $60,000 in bribes in an undercover FBI sting in which an agent posed as a movie studio executive. The sting was part of a years-long investigation into corruption, Calderon and his political family.
- 6 p.m. Steinberg denies Calderon's claims
- 4:30 p.m. Calderon removed from California Film Commission
- 4:09 p.m. FBI confirms investigation into suspected unauthorized leak of a sealed document
- 3:38 p.m. Affidavit alleges $60,000 in bribes paid to Sen. Ron Calderon
- 10:47 a.m. News reports raise new allegations against Calderon
6 p.m. Steinberg denies Calderon's claims
In the Thursday press conference where state Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg announced he was removing state Sen. Calderon from the California Film Commission, he went on to deny statements about Steinberg allegedly made by Calderon, according to the affidavit.
"Effective immediately, I am removing Senator Calderon from the appointment to California Film Commission, and vacating the position," Steinberg said in a Thursday press conference. "If for no other reason, the appearance of impropriety dictates that the senator no longer sit on that commission."
Steinberg called the allegations against Calderon "shocking and disturbing."
"I'm reluctant to dignify any of the more off-the-wall claims allegedly made in private by Senator Calderon," Steinberg said. "It's important for me to set the record straight since my name — my good name — was mentioned more than once."
Steinberg was mentioned several times in the affidavit, with Calderon allegedly asserting to undercover FBI agents that he would "deliver" on legislation they were seeking to obtain through bribes by having that legislation introduced in the state Senate by Steinberg. The affidavit asserts that Calderon said Steinberg had told Calderon he would get the bill out of appropriations, and that then the bill couldn't be stopped. Calderon asserted that he had Steinberg's support and that Steinberg was pushing the bill, according to the affidavit.
"Neither I nor the Senate Democratic Caucus supported Senator Calderon's film tax credit proposal," Steinberg said at the press conference. "In fact, no such bill ever reached the committee, was ever heard in committee or reached the Senate floor."
Steinberg acknowledged at the press conference that he had received two tickets from Calderon to a Giants game, but did not speak about any of the issues Calderon allegedly said, according to the affidavit, that Steinberg spoke with him about.
"It's not that easy for one member in a bicameral legislature to say, snap the fingers and say, 'this is going to get done, I know people in power.' Policy has to be a lot sounder than that to survive," Steinberg said.
Steinberg also acknowledged the he had responded to a request from Calderon from another staff position, but said that it seemed reasonable to expand Calderon's staff due to redistricting. This appears to be related to the claims in the affidavit that Steinberg helped Calderon obtain a position for a person who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
"I don't believe it's the practice of any leader to micromanage who members hire on their staffs," Steinberg said.
Steinberg said that the assertions made by Calderon in the conversations alleged in the affidavit "bear zero resemblance to reality," and that they aren't how Steinberg or the Legislature itself operates.
Steinberg said that he hadn't spoken to Calderon about the investigation since June, and also that he didn't know this was coming.
— Mike Roe
4:30 p.m. Calderon removed from California Film Commission
State Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg removed Sen. Ron Calderon from the California Film Commission in the wake of reports that Calderon had allegedly received bribes in an undercover FBI sting involving a fake Hollywood movie executive.
Steinberg announced the move at a press briefing in Sacramento on Thursday. (View Steinberg's letter to film commission Executive Director Amy Lemisch below.)
4:09 p.m. FBI confirms investigation into suspected unauthorized leak of a sealed document
The FBI has confirmed that an investigation is being opened into the "suspected unauthorized disclosure of a sealed court document" a day after Al Jazeera America reported that it had obtained a copy of a sealed federal affidavit alleging about $60,000 in bribes paid to State Sen. Ron Calderon as part of an undercover sting.
The FBI would not comment directly on the Al Jazeera America report or the affidavit on which it was based, which KPCC has confirmed is authentic.
Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles, emailed this statement:—Alice Walton
3:38 p.m.: Affidavit alleges $60,000 in bribes paid to Sen. Ron Calderon in Hollywood sting
KPCC has confirmed the authenticity of a 124-page federal affidavit that is the source of a report on Al Jazeera America Wednesday that State Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) allegedly accepted about $60,000 in bribes in an FBI sting involving an undercover agent posing as an independent movie executive.
The affidavit alleges that the bribes were paid in exchange for Calderon’s supporting legislation to lower how much independent filmmakers would have to spend to get a state tax credit.
The sting, part of a years-long corruption investigation, reportedly ran for more than a year. It ended when FBI agents raided Calderon’s Sacramento office in June, Al Jazeera reported.
TIMELINE: The FBI's investigation of Ron Calderon
Al Jazeera reported that the affidavit is still under seal and was filed by the FBI in U.S. District Court in Sacramento in support of a search warrant used in the raid. The affidavit is available on Al Jazeera’s website. Two sources confirmed the document’s authenticity; they spoke to KPCC on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about it publicly.
Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office would comment to KPCC on the affidavit or the investigation.
Among the allegations contained in the affidavit:
- Calderon accepted about $28,000 in bribes from Michael Drobot, the chief executive officer of Long Beach's Pacific Hospital, in return for Calderon’s support of legislation to delay or limit changes to the state's workers' compensation laws related to how much doctors are reimbursed for spinal surgeries. This allegedly would have enriched Drobot's company.
- Drobot has been paying Ron Calderon's brother, Thomas Calderon, about $10,000 a month as part of the bribery scheme, ostensibly to serve as a consultant on the spinal surgery legislation. The affidavit asserts Thomas Calderon is facilitating bribes to his brother Ron.
- Calderon hired an undercover FBI agent, playing another agent's girlfriend, to a state Senate staff position.
- A $25,000 bribe paid by the undercover FBI agent was purportedly funneled through Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit organization that, according to Ron Calderon, is controlled by Thomas Calderon, and that the brothers planned to use the money when Ron is out of office.
- The undercover agent allegedly made nine $3,000 payments to Calderon’s daughter, Jessica. Ron Calderon allegedly drafted a document saying Jessica worked for the undercover agent.
- A third undercover agent allegedly made a payment to Ron Calderon of $3,000 in cash.
The affidavit includes other allegations against Ron Calderon, including criminal conspiracy, accepting bribes, wire fraud and extortion.
The undercover FBI agent who allegedly paid bribes to Calderon did so posing as the owner of a downtown Los Angeles film studio that provided studio facilities for independent films and commercials.
Calderon allegedly received these payments and, on behalf of the undercover FBI agent, sought to get an amendment added to lower the qualifications to receive an independent film tax credit.
Calderon has previously denied any wrongdoing. His attorney, Mark Geragos, told the Los Angeles Times that he guesses the allegations in the affidavit are “fabricated and untrue.” The only crime that has been committed, said Geragos, was the release of the sealed affidavit, which he said is “a federal crime.”
The attorney for Michael Drobot, Jeffrey Rutherford, told the Los Angeles Times that “any allegation that Mr. Drobot engaged in wrongdoing with respect to Ron Calderon is baseless.”
State Sen. Ted Lieu issued a statement saying that he was contacted by the U.S. Attorney's Office during the summer and said he'd fully cooperated with the investigation, though he noted that he wasn't a target of the investigation.
Lieu noted that he'd never dropped Senate Bill 959, a bill banning separate payments for spinal implants.Lieu also condemned public corruption as an "insidious evil" in the government. "We as elected officials have taken an oath to faithfully discharge a sacred duty to our constituents and to our state. I have honestly and forthrightly discharged my obligation as an elected official at all times," Lieu wrote.
Lieu said that the government had asked him not to discuss the government's investigation itself.
State Sen. Kevin De Leon’s office also responded to KPCC with this statement:De Leon is mentioned in the affidavit as someone whose support Calderon sought on the spinal surgery legislation.
The undercover sting detailed in the affidavit would be one more in a string of elaborate stings the FBI has mounted to try to entice politicians into committing crimes. The Abscam sting of the late '70s that put six Congressmen and a U.S. Senator in jail may be one of the best-known.
Such stings have elements in common. They provide opportunities for public officials who are predisposed to political corruption to succumb to temptation. They also generate video and other evidence showing crimes being committed in real time.
Political analyst Dan Schnur told KPCC's Sharon McNary that these stings rattle nerves.
"The entire political community becomes absolutely and incredibly paranoid, because everyone begins to worry that anyone they might be speaking to may be an FBI informant," Schnur said.
Schnur says they also lead to a tightening of ethics laws, at least until memories fade and politicians find other ways to use their positions to generate income.
Back in the 1970s, con man Melvin Weinberg went undercover for the FBI playing a Middle Eastern businessman trying to bribe members of Congress and other politicians. The Abscam sting was named for Abdul Enterprises, the businessman's fictional company. It's been nearly 40 years since Abscam, and that sting is the basis for "American Hustle," an upcoming movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
In 1995, the FBI unleashed Shrimpgate on Sacramento. Undercover agents offered bribes to get a fictitious shrimp processing plant built. Fourteen elected officials, lobbyists and others went to prison.
10:47 a.m.: News reports raise new allegations against Calderon
A number of news reports have revealed possible federal allegations against state Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello-based Democrat whose Sacramento offices were raided by the FBI in June.
The reports stem from a story by Al Jazeera America's investigative team, which claims to have obtained a copy of a sealed affidavit.
Calderon is a member of a powerful Southern California political dynasty. His brother, Tom Calderon, was a state Assemblyman and later a political consultant.
The FBI said in June that it searched Ron Calderon’s offices as part of an investigation into "allegations of criminal activity," though no charges have been filed.
KPCC has not yet been able to independently confirm the veracity of the affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera or the allegations contained within, but we will be updating this story as we learn more.
Other press reports: