Al Jazeera America, of all sources, broke the story that California state Senator Ron Calderon, from Montebello, California, accepted $88,000 in bribes. In fact, they weren’t bribes at all. It was a sting. An undercover agent posed as a film studio owner and hospital executive who promised to give Calderon $88,000 in exchange for beneficial tax code legislation.
The details appear in a 124-page federal affidavit that was originally filed under seal with the court when the FBI was trying to obtain a search warrant of Calderon’s office. The affidavit alleges that Calderon worked with special interest groups on a pay-to-play basis: if they paid him, he’d advance legislation that benefitted them.
Calderon kept the money in the family, with funds going to a “nonprofit” organization that his brother, Tom Calderon, ran. He also gave out jobs as favors, even when the job applicants were unqualified (as one undercover agent appeared to be when another undercover agent asked that she get a job in return for some favors), and arranged for employment his own children.
According to the affidavit, Calderon stated to an undercover agent “One way you could be a real help to (my daughter) is, you got any work?” On another occasion, he said to an agent, “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.” Clearly, he was not subtle.
It also appears that, not only did Calderon send work to his children, it ended up that they didn’t actually have to do the work to get the money. When Calderon asked the undercover agent for a job for his daughter, Jessica, he said it was “just so that she had something to do.” The affidavit goes on to explain that “The (agent) reminded (Calderon) that he did not hire Jessica Calderon to do work and had hired her for the tax credit legislation. . . . Ronald Calderon asked the (agent) if she could just do something for the purpose of ‘legitimizing the whole thing.’ Ronald Calderon said he was feeling guilty and that just having her run something across town would be enough, just so something was on record.”
In exchange for getting what he wanted, Calderon promised the undercover team that he would change California’s tax credit program for filmmakers so as to give greater benefits to smaller productions. Calderon assured the agent that he could be helpful, since Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg supported lowering the tax threshold. “That is why it is all about relationships. Just the fact that (Steinberg) is behind pushing lowering the threshold, is huge. It’s huge. And he did it because of our relationship. And, I helped him, he helped me.”
Given that the affidavit runs to 124 fact-filled pages, numerous other charges of corruption are leveled against Calderon. Bribes, kickbacks, favors – Calderon would go for anything that advanced his power, enriched his pocketbook, or benefitted his children. As far as Calderon was concerned, his election had nothing to do with obligations to the people of California, and everything to do with treating the job as a giant ATM.
Calderon has not yet been arrested, but charges are expected. His attorney, Mark Geragos, is not returning any phone calls.