Sen. Ronald S. Calderon pleads not guilty to corruption charges

Sen. Ronald S. Calderon pleads not guilty to corruption charges
U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr., center, speaks during a news conference Friday to announce charges in a case involving state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

State Sen. Ronald S. Calderon, indicted last week on corruption charges and accused of taking $100,000 in bribes, pleaded not guilty in federal court Monday afternoon.

Calderon was taken into custody Monday morning after surrendering to authorities. He is expected to be released on a $50,000 surety bond, signed by his wife. 

Calderon, 56, faces 24 counts of fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.


A trial date was scheduled for April 22. Calderon wore a light blue, button-down shirt and was handcuffed and chained at the waist.

Federal authorities allege that Calderon (D-Montebello) took the bribes from a Long Beach hospital official, as well as people connected to what he believed was a Hollywood studio. In fact, the studio was an FBI front and the business associates were FBI agents. 

"This today is just the first step in a long process to seek justice against corrupt politicians," Assistant U.S. Atty. Mack Jenkins said. 

FULL COVERAGE: Calderon family probes

Calderon's attorney Mark Geragos said last week his client welcomes "the opportunity to disprove these allegations in a courtroom."

In Sacramento, Senate leaders said Monday they will give Calderon one week, until March 3, to either resign or take a leave of absence, after which he will face a possible Senate vote to suspend him from office.

“I think it is fair that we give Sen. Calderon a chance to consider the request we made” last Friday, said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). “We are being very deliberative.”

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar said he is willing to go along with the Democrats' move to give Calderon more time, even though some Republicans are getting impatient to act on both Calderon and Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood).

Wright was convicted last month of eight felonies, including perjury and voter fraud, after prosecutors said he had lied about living in his Senate district when he was elected and voted there.

Geragos said after Monday's court proceeding that Calderon will not make a decision on whether to resign or take a leave until he reviews the evidence.

He called the leak of search warrant affidavits last fall to Al Jazeera America “very troubling” and accused the government of “bait and switch,” saying the indictment was timed to dodge questions about the leak.

"In 31 years, I've never had a situation in federal court where a search warrant affidavit has been leaked," Geragos said.

Calderon's brother, Thomas, was also indicted last week on money-laundering charges. Thomas Calderon is a former assemblyman who most recently served as a consultant for the Central Basin Water District.

Authorities allege that Ronald Calderon took bribes from Michael Drobot, former owner of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach. 

According to a U.S. attorney's office statement, "Drobot bribed Ron Calderon by hiring Calderon’s college-age son to work as a file clerk at his company and paying him approximately $30,000 over the course of three summers. Ron Calderon’s son showed up for only about 15 days of work each summer, according to the indictment, which also accused Ron Calderon of accepting plane trips, golf outings and expensive dinners from Drobot. Ron Calderon allegedly arranged meetings between Drobot and other public officials and helped Drobot attempt to persuade the other legislators" to help with bills favorable to his business.

Drobot has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to paying illegal kickbacks, according to the U.S. attorney.

Calderon faces up to 395 years in prison if convicted.