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FBI looking at Sen. Calderon film tax-credit proposal

SACRAMENTO -- Federal investigators probing the activities of state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello) have asked other lawmakers about proposals he made to expand tax credits for the film industry, officials said Wednesday.

Calderon pushed to extend tax breaks to productions of less than $1 million. He and family members received a total of $10,800 in campaign contributions from an independent producer who could have benefited from the change Calderon advocated.

FBI agents raided Calderon’s Capitol office in June and seized documents as part of an investigation into his finances. On Wednesday, the Hollywood connection arose.

Lawmakers said that while Calderon was pushing for the tax credits, he was frequently seen at political and social events accompanied by a young businessman he introduced as Rocky Patel.

Patel identifies himself on social media sites as the head of United Pacific Studios, a small independent studio in downtown Los Angeles.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a Calderon bill last year that extended for two years California’s $100 million in annual tax breaks for films made in the state. The credit is available to productions of $1 million or more after financing is secured and certain production tasks have been completed.

Separately, Calderon wanted to give tax breaks to productions of less than $1 million and to provide the tax breaks upfront.

Calderon made that proposal in a letter to Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) on May 20. He also proposed a tax incentive for commercials filmed in California.

“These proposals didn’t make it into the final [legislative] package” said Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Steinberg.

One subpoena served to a state official asked about tax credit legislation and whether the official knew people in the film industry, including Patel, and another state official was asked about the tax credit legislation separately by investigators, said sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

According to records from the secretary of state’s office, Patel gave a total of $15,800 to three lawmakers in 2012 and early 2013.

Patel’s first two donations, of $3,900 each, went to Sen. Calderon and his brother Tom, who was a candidate for state Assembly. In December 2012, Patel gave $5,000 to Sen. Kevin DeLeon.

In January 2013, Patel donated an additional $3,900 to Ronald Calderon, and attended a Calderon fundraiser -- a Lady Gaga concert at Staples Center.

Patel’s Twitter account, which has been dormant since April 22, shows him as an avid soccer fan and CrossFit enthusiast, with more than a passing interest in state politics. The feed includes a July 2012 photo of Patel and Calderon taken outside Patel’s United Pacific Studios in Downtown Los Angeles.

There are also several retweeted links from DeLeon and snapshots from the Jan. 20 Lady Gaga concert, where Patel reported he was “enjoying cocktails with the other VIPs.”

An aide to Calderon said he had no comment on the Senator’s association with Patel or his tax credit proposals.


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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


 

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