Calderon refused to wear recording device in FBI probe

The California state senator alleges that federal officials leaked sealed affidavit to Al Jazeera in retaliation

State Sen. Ronald Calderon, right, with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in June, shortly after the FBI raided Calderon's office.
Rich Pedroncelli/The Associated Press

By Trevor Aaronson and Josh Bernstein
Al Jazeera Investigative Unit

California state Sen. Ronald Calderon, the subject of an FBI public corruption investigation, alleged in a court filing that federal authorities “engaged in a campaign to smear’’ him after he refused to secretly record the conversations of Senate leaders.

Calderon’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on Nov. 13 by his attorney, Mark J. Geragos, says government officials wanted Calderon to wear a wire and record the conversations of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de Leon. After he refused, the filing said, government agents leaked a sealed affidavit to Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

The affidavit, which Al Jazeera America revealed in an exclusive story on Oct. 30, detailed how Calderon allegedly accepted more than $60,000 in bribes from FBI undercover agents posing as movie executives.

“The egregious constitutional violations committed in this case were not motivated by the ends of justice,’’ Geragos wrote in the legal filing. Instead, he said, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles retaliated against Calderon for refusing to participate in the undercover sting targeting Senate colleagues.

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Calderon, through Geragos, contended that the federal government leaked the affidavit “to smear the reputation of Senator Calderon and convict him in the press and public.” Geragos wants the court to sanction federal investigators for allegedly disclosing the affidavit.

According to Calderon, a Democrat from Southern California, the FBI asked him to wear a recording device during meetings with Steinberg and de Leon. Steinberg and de Leon, both Democrats, were the primary targets of the FBI probe, Calderon’s complaint alleges.

Federal investigators were specifically interested in Steinberg’s connections to Michael Drobot, a Southern California hospital executive who ran an alleged workers’ compensation scheme that brought in tens of millions of dollars, Calderon’s filing claims.

According to the sealed FBI affidavit, Drobot paid $28,000 to Calderon through his son, who worked a summer job at Drobot’s hospital, although most of the money went directly into the state senator’s bank account.

In a brief statement, Steinberg’s press secretary, Rhys Williams, said the senator has been informed he is not a target of the FBI inquiry. In response to questions from Al Jazeera, Williams said Calderon arranged a meeting between Drobot and Steinberg. After listening to Drobot’s concerns about pending workers’ compensation legislation, the aide said, Steinberg rejected Drobot’s pleas and supported a measure that ended abuses in the compensation program.

Mark Geragos, Ronald Calderon's lawyer, wants the court to sanction federal investigators for allegedly disclosing the affidavit.
David McNew/The Associated Press

Previously, de Leon shared with the media a letter he received from federal prosecutors saying he was not a target of the FBI probe. The letter describes de Leon as only a witness in the investigation. Asked for comment about Calderon’s allegations, Dan Reeves, de Leon’s chief of staff, said: “The U.S. Attorney’s letter to Senator De Leon regarding this inquiry speaks for itself.”

Since Al Jazeera’s report, Calderon has lost most of his political power in California.

The Senate Rules Committee voted 4-0 to remove Calderon from his committee assignments. Steinberg stripped Calderon of his position on a state commission that oversees $100 million in annual tax credits for movies made in California. The California Latino Legislative Caucus also removed Calderon from its executive board.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice has not commented on an FBI request to undertake an investigation into how the sealed affidavit was leaked to Al Jazeera.

Geragos’ complaint suggests there is little hope that any such investigation will identify who disclosed the affidavit. “The FBI’s ‘investigation’ into the illegal leak is little more than the fox guarding the proverbial henhouse,’’ Geragos wrote, “since the likely source of the illegal leak is inside the Department of Justice where the so-called investigation has now been referred." 

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