State Sen. Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that he accepted $100,000 in bribes in return for pushing legislation, charges that could send him to federal prison for years.
Calderon, a member of a powerful Democratic political dynasty, stood before U.S. District Judge Suzanne Segal with his handcuffed hands clasped in front of him and entered pleas to 24 counts involving fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and aiding the filing of false tax returns.
He and his brother Tom Calderon were indicted on Feb. 21, four months after an Al Jazeera investigation published a leaked affidavit that revealed Ron Calderon had accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent. After Al Jazeera published the affidavit, Calderon filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court asking a judge to sanction the federal prosecutors responsible for the leak.
Calderon surrendered to authorities Monday. He was expected to be released after posting a $50,000 bond, surrendering his passport and agreeing to remain in the continental United States.
If convicted of all charges, the sentences could total nearly 400 years.
Trial was tentatively set for April, but the prosecutor said it probably would be six months to a year before Calderon faces a jury because of the paperwork involved in the complex case.
"Today is just the first step in a long process to seek justice against a corrupt politician," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins said.
In the state Capitol, Calderon's Democratic colleagues in the Senate agreed to give him until next Monday to resign or take an indefinite leave of absence. If he does not, they plan to suspend him from his duties as a legislator but not expel him.
A spokesman for Calderon, Mario Beltran, said he could not immediately comment on the Senate's ultimatum.
Calderon was stripped of his legislative committee assignments in November.
Calderon, 56, was elected to the state Senate in 2006 and represents Montebello, Bell Gardens and other southeastern Los Angeles suburbs.
His lawyer, Mark Geragos, said outside court that Calderon will decide later whether he wants to remain on the job, depending on how much time he needs to work on his criminal case.
Calderon was charged last week with trading his influence in the Legislature for bribes that included cash, trips to Las Vegas and paid no-work jobs for his son and daughter.
He allegedly accepted bribes from Michael D. Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, to push for legislation involving state workers' compensation laws.
Drobot was charged last week with a $500 million scheme to defraud workers' compensation insurance providers. He pleaded guilty last week and will testify in return for a reduced sentence, authorities said.
Calderon also allegedly accepted bribes from an undercover FBI agent who posed as the owner of a Los Angeles movie studio and sought Calderon's help promoting a bill that would expand tax credits for the film industry.
Bills that would have helped the hospital executive and the fake movie studio never made it out of the Legislature.
Tom Calderon pleaded not guilty last week to eight counts of money laundering and conspiracy. He is free on bond.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press