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Calderon says investigation is payback

SACRAMENTO — State Sen. Ronald S. Calderon, who is being investigated by the FBI on suspicion that he accepted bribes, accused federal authorities Wednesday of trying to smear him for refusing to wear a wire in a sting operation against two other senators.

In a motion filed in federal court in Sacramento, Calderon (D-Montebello) says authorities from the FBI and the U.S attorney's office repeatedly asked him to participate in an investigation of Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).

He was asked to wear a wire to secretly record conversations with them, the filing says.

Calderon declined and "refused to continue participating in the FBI's sting operation," the motion says. It is not clear what, if any, assistance Calderon had provided.

Federal agents raided the senator's office in June. Last month, a 124-page, sealed FBI affidavit detailing bribery allegations against Calderon was posted on a media website. Calderon's court filing accuses the authorities of leaking the document.

Calderon has not been charged with any crime and has denied the allegations, which include accepting $60,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio executive and $28,000 from a Long Beach hospital executive in exchange for efforts to influence legislation.

Leaking the affidavit broke the law, Calderon's motion asserts, and federal authorities should be held in contempt of court. The document was illegally released to the media "in an effort to defame and retaliate against Senator Calderon for not cooperating in its 'sting' operation," the filing says.

Mark Geragos, Calderon's attorney, said federal authorities have been "targeting the entire state Senate. When they realized they didn't have anything, that's why they engaged in payback."

Included in the court filing is a copy of a receipt that Geragos said was signed by a federal official the week after the office raid, when Calderon returned wire equipment that investigators had given him.

Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento, declined to comment Wednesday. The Department of Justice is reviewing the source of the leak, according to a previous statement from Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles.

Eimiller declined to comment Wednesday.

Calderon's court filing is the latest development in a corruption investigation that has rocked the Capitol, and its assertions were quickly disputed by Steinberg, the Senate leader, who issued a statement calling it "pure fantasy."

His spokesman, Mark Hedlund, said the Senate leader has been informed by federal authorities that he is not a target of the investigation.

Dan Reeves, chief of staff for De Leon, declined to comment Wednesday. De Leon recently released a letter from a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles saying "he is a witness, as opposed to a subject or a target" in the investigation involving Calderon.

Calderon's motion came a day after Steinberg and other senators stripped him of his committee posts. He lost six assignments, including his position as chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee.

Steinberg said the allegations against Calderon "are serious enough to potentially cloud any interaction the senator might have with colleagues, advocates and the public on issues within a committee's jurisdiction."

In addition, Calderon is being pressured to resign by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and local leaders in his district. At a news conference Wednesday, they said the investigation of Calderon has hurt their efforts to regain voters' trust after a series of corruption scandals in the area.

"The public must be able to trust their elected officials," Garcia said. "Everyday I'm hearing from them: 'We don't trust you.' This is sucking the air out of everything we do."

Gil Hurtado, mayor of South Gate, complained that the investigation particularly hurts Latino officials.

"We are getting judged based on this," he said.

In a statement Wednesday, Calderon suggested that the call for his resignation was politically motivated. He took aim at Garcia, who organized the news conference and who some believe may be interested in running for Calderon's Senate seat.

"Without knowing the full story and waiting to hear all the facts in this case, she has assumed the role of judge and jury by calling for my resignation," Calderon said. "What has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office."

Times staff writer Kate Linthicum in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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