FBI may have used Twitter persona to help deceive in Calderon probe
A peek into a yearslong sting operation targeting state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello) reveals the lengths to which the FBI went to get close to the lawmaker – possibly developing an online persona for an FBI agent posing as an independent filmmaker who apparently directed $60,000 in alleged bribes to the senator.
The first step: Choose a name that’s hard to Google. The apparent agent was operating under the moniker Rocky Patel, which is also the name of a well-known cigar manufacturer. Efforts to research Rocky Patel, studio executive, turn up hundreds of mentions of the tobacco impresario.
One elected official, who remembers meeting Patel with Calderon at a birthday party at the Havana Club last year recalled asking Patel if he was related to the cigar personality.
“No,” Patel said, according to the official who was not authorized to speak publicly, “but I get that all the time.”
This Patel presented himself as the president of United Pacific Studios, a production facility in downtown Los Angeles that has been operating since at least 2007, according to business records. The studio’s website features a number of B movies that were reportedly made on site, including such titles as “The Sinatra Club,” “Double Tap” and “Dalhia Knights.”
The Patel personality was rounded out with a Twitter feed, where he presented himself as a soccer aficionado and Crossfit enthusiast, a follower of porn stars and L.A. elected officials.
And every time he got close to one, he marked it on his feed.
The Twitter account, which was taken down Wednesday night after details of the sting emerged, included pictures of the alleged studio exec with former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, retweeted messages from state Sen. Kevin DeLeon, and had multiple photos of Patel with Calderon.
The feed includes a July 19 photo of Patel and Calderon taken outside United Pacific’s downtown facility. Another shows the two sitting together in a nightclub wearing glow-in-the-dark sunglasses, making hand gestures toward the camera.
Another photo shows Patel with Solis at the Imagen Latino entertainment awards show, an event Patel wrote he was attending with “my good friend” Ron Calderon. And there are snapshots from the Jan. 20 Lady Gaga concert, where Patel reported he was “enjoying cocktails with the other VIPs.”
Patel was there as part of a fundraising event for Calderon.
At one point Patel tweeted a reference to the movie “Argo,” a film about a fake movie studio created by U.S. government officials aimed to dupe the Iranian government.
Was it life imitating art, imitating art imitating life?
It’s hard to know for certain. United Pacific had been operating for years.
The feed went dormant in April, just weeks before FBI agents raided Calderon’s office.
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