Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Former Democrat California Senator Calderon Admits He Took Bribes

Image result for calderonLOS ANGELES (CN) — Ending a corruption scandal that rocked a once-formidable family of California legislators and powerbrokers, former state Sen. Ronald Calderon pleaded guilty Monday to mail fraud.
     In pleading guilty to one count of "mail fraud through the deprivation of honest services," Calderon, 58, admitted he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from a hospital executive and three undercover FBI agents. He is expected to be sentenced to 70 months in federal prison.
     The announcement of the one-time senator's plea deal came just one week after his elder brother Thomas M. Calderon, himself a former member of the state Assembly, pleaded guilty to money laundering. Tom Calderon is expected to receive a year in federal prison when he is sentenced in September.
     In 2014, the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles charged the brothers with two dozen criminal counts, potentially exposing them to many decades behind bars.
     According to prosecutors, Ron Calderon accepted bribes from two sources. One was hospital executive Michael Drobot, who has pleaded guilty separately to conspiracy and paying kickbacks in a scheme to defraud workers' compensation insurers.
     Drobot's hospital paid highly inflated prices to companies he controlled for spinal surgery hardware. He then passed the full cost on to the insurers under a California reimbursement law known as the "spinal pass-through."
     In exchange for Calderon's support of legislation to preserve the pass-through law and his opposition to a bill to weaken it, Drobot allegedly hired Calderon's son as a hospital file clerk for three summers at $10,000 per summer. The son actually worked just a couple of weeks each summer, according to prosecutors.
     Separately, Calderon also admitted in his plea agreement that he accepted bribes from undercover agents posing as owners of an independent film studio. They told him they wanted the threshold amount a studio had to spend to qualify for a tax credit lowered from $1 million to $750,000.
     The senator introduced legislation that he said would be used to make the change. He also had the Senate hire a third undercover agent, posing as the supposed studio owner's girlfriend, as a staffer in Calderon's district office.
     For that, the FBI agents paid Calderon's daughter $3,000 a month for a nonexistent job, paid $5,000 toward his son's tuition, gave him about $12,000 worth of trips to Las Vegas and contributed $25,000 to a nonprofit headed by Tom Calderon that the brothers "used to pay themselves," according to the plea agreement.
     Calderon's attorney, famed Los Angeles lawyer Mark J. Geragos, did not respond to a request to discuss the plea.
     In announcing the plea deal Monday, U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said that corrupt public officials "threaten the basic fabric of our democracy."
     "The Calderons have acknowledged their roles in a bribery scheme in which money for them and their families alone was driving legislation that would have benefited only a few individuals," she said.
     The current leader of the state Senate, President Pro Tem Kevin de León, said in a statement Monday that Calderon's plea "closes a sad chapter in the Senate's history," according to newspaper accounts. "We move on."
     Ron and Tom Calderon's eldest brother, Charles Calderon, also served in the California Legislature, including a turn as majority leader in the Assembly from 2010 to 2012. His unsuccessful election bid for a seat on the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2012 was hindered by the charges against his brothers.
     Charles Calderon's son, Ian Calderon, is now a first-term member of the Assembly. But he has distanced himself from the scandal, according to news accounts, and was one of the backers of a measure approved by voters this month allowing the Legislature to suspend lawmakers accused of corruption.
     He was re-elected June 7.