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Calderon family's ties to Central Basin water board probed by FBI

Laws and LegislationLocal GovernmentCrime, Law and JusticeGrace F. NapolitanoNatural Resource IndustryBusinessFinance

This post has been updated. See below for details.

SACRAMENTO — A day after FBI agents raided the Capitol office of Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), local officials from Southern California said they have been interviewed by federal agents about the senator’s connection to a local water board.

While the U.S. Attorney’s office on Wednesday remained mum about the focus of the investigation, the Central Basin Municipal Water District has been at the center of a number of controversies for years. Some of those controversies have focused on the Calderon family’s relationship with the district.


FOR THE RECORD:
Calderon investigation: An article in the June 6 Section A about an FBI investigation into Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) said that the senator's brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, received $140,000 per year from the company Water2Save, which was chosen for a project by the Central Basin Municipal Water District. Tom Calderon's $140,000-per-year contract was with Central Basin. He had a separate consulting contract with Water2Save.


Among those who have raised public concerns about the district is Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk).  In an interview Wednesday, she said she has heard complaints from cities she represents dating back more than a decade about the Central Basin Water District’s lack of transparency and questionable spending of public funds.

IN DEPTH: Calderon targeted by FBI

In particular, Napolitano questioned how the district spent $5.6 million in federal funds she helped secure to build infrastructure for a regional system to recycle water.

The district received a subsequent research grant from the Department of Energy in conjunction with HydroEarth, a Lake Forest-based water management firm. But instead of moving forward with the original research proposal, Central Basin amended the project and opened it up for competitive bidding. Staffers subsequently chose to partner with a different company, Water2Save, a firm that paid Ron Calderon’s brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, $140,000 per year.

[UPDATED: 3:22 p.m. June 5:  Tom Calderon also received more than $10,000 per month as a consultant for the district.]

Questions emerged from cities in the area about increased water rates and how the district was spending that money. Napolitano  said she was never able to get answers about what was happening.

"It was just ridiculous,” she said. “This is ratepayer money. It’s not the Central Basin’s money.”

In 2009, she pushed for state auditors to step in and examine the board’s proposed rate hike, its spending of federal stimulus dollars, and review its spending on lobbying and political consultants.

Napolitano blames Ron Calderon for thwarting her audit request. “I was concerned there was state money, too, that was being misused,” she said.

She said Calderon assured state officials he would convene meetings of local stakeholders to work through their concerns. Those meetings never happened, according to Napolitano.

Concerns extend to cities that are members of the Central Basin Water District.

“There’s been a lot of seemingly dubious things in regards to their contracts, the costs of certain projects, and how they spend their money,” said Thaddeus McCormack, city manager for Santa Fe Springs. “We’ve had questions for a long time. Now, we may finally get some answers to those questions.”

One of McCormack’s concerns involved the Calderons. “Tom is a paid consultant to the district. We believe the senator is an advocate for them. That connection never seemed comfortable," he said. "It’s raised eyebrows for years.”

In 2011, Ron Calderon introduced a bill that would have given the Central Basin control over groundwater in the area, part of an ongoing rivalry between Central Basin and a neighboring water district.

The bill died in the Senate without ever having a hearing.

Another city official in Los Angeles County, who declined to be identified speaking about the investigation, said he spoke with the FBI about the water district.

The conversation focused on consulting contracts held by Tom Calderon and legislation authored by Ron Calderon, the official said.

“That was 100% of what they were asking about,” the official added.

Note: An earlier version of this post said that Tom Calderon is a paid consultant for the water district. That contract was terminated earlier this year, according to James Roybal, president of the Central Basin Municipal Water District’s board of directors

ALSO:

Federal probe rocks California Capitol

Water agency draws fire after filing unusual libel suit

Before Calderon office raid, FBI checked out agency tied to senator

anthony.york@latimes.com

@anthonyyorklat

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