California lawmaker pleads not guilty to corruption charges
LOS ANGELES - A California state senator pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges he took bribes from a businessman as well as from undercover FBI agents posing as Hollywood film executives to shepherd legislation in their favor.
Ron Calderon, a Democrat and a member of a California political dynasty that goes back several decades, had turned himself in earlier in the day to face two dozen counts of bribery, fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.
Calderon, who appeared handcuffed and shackled in his street clothes at a brief hearing at the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, was ordered freed on $50,000 bond after surrendering his passport and agreeing not to leave the United States. The 56-year-old lawmaker was also ordered to return to court in March.
"The United States views these charges as very serious. Today is just the first step in a long process to seek justice for a corrupt politician," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins said outside court following the hearing.
But Calderon's attorney, Mark Geragos, asked the public not rush to judgment against his client, who he said remained in relatively good spirits despite trying circumstances.
"There is still a presumption of innocence in this country," Geragos said.
Calderon is accused in a 28-page federal grand jury indictment of taking some $100,000 in cash bribes, along with plane trips, golf outings and jobs for his children, in exchange for influencing legislation.
State senate leader Darrell Steinberg, a fellow Democrat, has called on Calderon to resign or take a leave of absence during the criminal proceedings, saying the senate would otherwise seek to suspend him.
Prosecutors say Ron Calderon accepted bribes from Long Beach hospital owner Michael Drobot, who has agreed to plead guilty to separate federal charges, to preserve a legislative loophole that allowed Drobot to defraud the state's healthcare system out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Drobot is cooperating in the case against the Calderon brothers, prosecutors say.
Calderon is also accused of accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as executives from an independent Hollywood movie studio in exchange for supporting an expansion of film tax credits in California.
Calderon was later removed from the board of the Latino Caucus and from his legislative committee assignments by his colleagues because of the investigation.
If convicted at trial, Ron Calderon, who also faces tax fraud charges, may face a statutory maximum of nearly 400 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines typically call for much less time. Tom Calderon could face a maximum of 160 years behind bars.