LOS ANGELES (AP) — Charged in a corruption scandal that could have sent him to prison for three lifetimes, former Sen. Ron Calderon dropped his entrapment defense, pleaded guilty and admitted taking bribes in exchange for his influence in Sacramento.
As he faces sentencing Friday, though, prosecutors say Calderon is not taking responsibility for his actions and has presented a “whimsical and revisionist view of his conduct” in an effort to serve no time behind bars for graft that lined his own pockets and helped put his children through college.
Federal prosecutors asked for a 5-year prison term in a blistering brief that mocked Calderon for making false and misleading claims about bribes he accepted and distorting his previous admissions in court.
“Defendant asks this court to endorse his view that an elected official who repeatedly and egregiously abuses the trust of the electorate warrants essentially the lowest possible sanction for a federal conviction,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins wrote. “Defendant’s requested sentence would permit (Calderon) to continue to trivialize his corrupt actions, as he does throughout his sentencing position, and continue to evade true accountability.”
The sentencing in U.S. District Court brings an end to an ugly chapter in California politics that saw three state Democratic senators indicted in 2014. It also tarnishes what was a Calderon political dynasty in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Calderon, 59, pleaded guilty to a single count of mail fraud in June, but he admitted to soliciting more than $155,000 in payments or financial benefits in exchange for enacting or blocking legislation.
He took $12,000 worth of trips to Las Vegas from an undercover FBI agent who posed as the owner of a Los Angeles movie studio seeking his support for film tax credits, though the legislation never passed, according to his signed plea agreement. The agent hired Calderon’s daughter for a $3,000 per month no-show job and paid $5,000 toward his son’s college tuition.
Calderon also admitted helping a hospital owner maintain a massive health care fraud scheme in exchange for hiring his son for $10,000 over three summers for no more than 15 days of work a season filing papers.
His brother, ex-Assemblyman Thomas Calderon, was also caught up in the FBI investigation.
Thomas Calderon, 62, a political consultant, pleaded guilty to laundering some of the bribes and was recently sentenced to 10 months in prison. Half of that term was to be served at home.
The two Montebello Democrats had followed their older brother, Charles Calderon, to Sacramento, where he served in both chambers of the Legislature before they were elected.
After the indictments came down against his brothers, Charles Calderon lost a race for a seat on the Los Angeles Superior Court bench. His son, Ian Calderon, is a Democrat in the state Assembly.
Attorney Mark Geragos, who filed Ron Calderon’s sentencing brief under seal and didn’t want to say much before the hearing, said fallout from the crimes would hurt the family’s status.
“People sometimes underestimate how impactful that can be,” Geragos said. “The reputational harm on somebody who’s been in public service their whole life is devastating.”
The legal troubles for the two younger Calderon brothers in 2014 came at an embarrassing time for Senate Democrats. Fellow Sens. Leland Yee and Rod Wright were facing unrelated felony charges.
All three were suspended, though they continued to be paid under rules later reversed by voters to give state lawmakers the ability to suspend colleagues’ pay and voting power if accused of wrongdoing in office.
Yee, of San Francisco, was sentenced to five years in federal prison in an organized crime case centered in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Wright was convicted of lying about living outside his Los Angeles district and sentenced to three months in jail.
Jaime Regalado, a political science professor at California State University, Los Angeles, said the convictions of the Calderons were symbolically important, but he didn’t think they would have a big impact on future corruption.
“The public would like to think the convictions and sentences of Tom and Ron would help clean up Sacramento and the body politic, as well as strike fear in the hearts of legislators who are willing to engage in illegal gambits with the public’s money,” Regalado said. “But the reality is we’ve seen this time and again. … There’s a lot of greed that continues to go around, so this will be a drop in the pan.”