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September 16, 2014

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California lawmaker charged with corruption

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal law enforcement authorities on Friday announced multiple charges of bribery and cover-ups against a Democratic state lawmaker and his brother, the result of a long-running corruption investigation that has tarnished the state's majority party.

The 24-count indictment was filed Thursday in federal court in Los Angeles against state Sen. Ron Calderon and his brother, Tom, a former state lawmaker who now works as a lobbyist and was in charge of political accounts cited in the document.

"Defendant Ronald S. Calderon would seek and accept bribes and kickbacks in the form of financial benefits and payments to himself, his children, and to Californians for Diversity and the Calderon Group," the indictment states, referencing political groups the brothers set up so they could solicit donations and essentially pay themselves.

Los Angeles U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte told a news conference that Ron Calderon took $100,000 in cash bribes plus plane trips, golf trips and gourmet meals.

Ron Calderon has denied wrongdoing.

A legislative spokesman for the senator, Mario Beltran, said all communications involving the indictment are being handled by Ron Calderon's attorney, Mark Geragos, who planned to issue a statement later in the day. Geragos did not return repeated telephone messages left at his office and on his cellphone.

Shepard Kopp, the attorney for Tom Calderon, said his client would plead not guilty and fight the charges.

He said the only counts against Tom Calderon are for money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

"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."

The indictment outlines a pay-to-play approach in which Ron Calderon used his influence in the Legislature to extract money from those who want favors.

It 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.

It 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.

Ron Calderon also ensured that his children benefited, with the film studio hiring his daughter for a $3,000-a-month job and the Long Beach hospital executive hiring his son for three summers at a rate of $10,000 per summer, the indictment said.

As part of his pay-to-play approach to politics, Ron Calderon also accepted trips on privately chartered planes, golf at exclusive, high-end resorts and meals at expensive restaurants, according to the filing.

Additionally, Calderon "would take steps to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribe payments he was receiving ..." the indictment said.

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