LOS ANGELES – Former California State Senator Ronald S. Calderon was sentenced today to 3½ years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge and admitting that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for performing official acts as a legislator.
Ron Calderon, 59, of Montebello, received the 42-month sentenced this afternoon from United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder, who also ordered the defendant to serve 150 hours of community service.
Ron Calderon pleaded guilty in June to one count of mail fraud through the deprivation of honest services. In a plea agreement filed in this case, Ron Calderon admitted accepting bribe payments from the owner of a Long Beach hospital who wanted a law to remain in effect so he could continue to reap tens of millions of dollars in illicit profits from a health care fraud scheme. Ron Calderon also admitted taking bribes from undercover FBI agents who were posing as independent filmmakers who wanted changes to California’s Film Tax Credit program.
Ron Calderon’s brother, Thomas M. Calderon, 62, also of Montebello, a former member of the California State Assembly who became a political consultant, was sentenced last month to 10 months in custody for his conviction on a money laundering charge for allowing bribe money earmarked for his brother to be funneled through his company.
“Former Senator Calderon repeatedly violated the trust of the voters by taking nearly $160,000 in bribes in exchange for abusing his position as an elected official,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The Calderons are now being punished for their roles in a bribery scheme that involved multiple forms of payments, as well as the attempted concealment of the scheme through money laundering and lies made to residents of his district. Politicians who violate their oaths by selling their offices will be discovered and will be prosecuted.”
“Mr. Calderon used the power of the state Senate to dole out favors in exchange for bribe payments and a flashy lifestyle, rather than governing honestly for the people of California,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “I’m proud of the agents and prosecutors who made this case a success using innovative techniques to uncover a variety of schemes and abject corruption by a state official.”
“At the heart of this case are two brothers – one a politician, the other the facilitator – who thought they were above the law and could exchange political favors for bribery payments,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation’s Acting Special Agent in Charge, Anthony J. Orlando. “Regardless of circumstances, no one is granted an exemption to commit crimes with impunity. As today’s sentence shows, the government will hold accountable those who use fraud and deceit to line their pockets with money, especially when those individuals are serving the California public.”
Ron Calderon admitted participating in a bribery scheme involving two areas of legislation and the hiring of a staffer who was also an undercover FBI agent.
In the first part of the bribery scheme, Ron Calderon took bribes from Michael Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, which was a major provider of spinal surgeries that were often paid by workers’ compensation programs. The spinal surgeries are at the center of a massive healthcare fraud scheme that Drobot orchestrated and to which he previously pleaded guilty. Ron Calderon was not charged in the healthcare fraud scheme that led to well over $500 million in fraudulent billings. Drobot, who was described in court papers filed by prosecutors as “a greedy fraudster robbing taxpayer-funded federal programs,” was a client of Tom Calderon’s political consulting firm.
California law known as the “spinal pass-through” legislation allowed a hospital to pass on to insurance companies the full cost it had paid for medical hardware it used during spinal surgeries. As Drobot admitted in court, his hospital exploited this law, typically by using hardware that had been purchased at highly-inflated prices from companies that Drobot controlled and passing this cost along to insurance providers.
Drobot bribed Ron Calderon so that he would use his public office to preserve this law that helped Drobot maintain a long-running and lucrative healthcare fraud scheme, which included Ron Calderon asking a fellow senator to introduce legislation favorable to Drobot and attempting to recruit other senators to support Drobot. The payments from Drobot came in the form of summer employment for Ron Calderon’s son, who was hired as a summer file clerk at Pacific Hospital and received a total of $30,000 over the course of three years, despite the son doing little actual work at the hospital.
In another part of the bribery scheme, Ron Calderon accepted bribes from people he thought were associated with an independent film studio, but who were in fact undercover FBI agents. In exchange for the payments – including $30,000 in payments to Ron Calderon’s daughter for services she never provided – Ron Calderon agreed to support an expansion of a state law that gave tax credits to studios that produced independent films in California. The Film Tax Credit applied to productions of at least $1 million, but, in exchange for bribes, Ron Calderon agreed to support new legislation to reduce this threshold to $750,000, according to the plea agreement.
Ron Calderon took several official actions with respect to reducing the threshold for the Film Tax Credit. Ron Calderon signed a letter on his official Senate letterhead indicating that he would propose legislation lowering the threshold, introduced a “spot bill” he told an undercover agent would be used to propose such legislation, and promised that he would vote in favor of that proposed legislation.
In addition to the payments to his daughter for work she did not do, Ron Calderon had one of the undercover agents make a $5,000 payment toward his son’s college tuition and a $25,000 payment to Californians for Diversity, a non-profit entity that Ron Calderon and his brother used to improperly pay themselves.
In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, prosecutors write that Ron Calderon “sold his vote not just to help pay for the expenses of living beyond his means, but for the more banal and predictable aims of corruption -– fancy luxuries, fancy parties, and fancy people.”
The memorandum further argues that a significant term of imprisonment was necessary to send a message to other political officials and the electorate because, without such a sentence, “the trust already eroded by individual detections of corrupt politicians will spread like cancer and threaten the fundamentals of a trusted democracy. It is not hyperbole to insist that nothing less is at stake in defendant’s sentencing.”
As part of the agreement with the undercover agents, Ron Calderon performed official acts that led to the hiring of another undercover agent as a staffer in his district office at an annual salary of $45,105.
Ron Calderon “knowingly concealed his bribery scheme from the public by submitting a false Statement of Economic Interest, California Form 700, to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which failed to disclose the money and other financial benefits defendant he had received from Drobot” and the undercover agents, Ron Calderon admitted in his plea agreement.
Tom Calderon pleaded guilty to money laundering and admitted that he agreed to conceal bribe payments for his brother from the two undercover FBI agents by having the money go through his company, the Calderon Group. Tom Calderon allowed payments to be made to the Calderon Group “to conceal and disguise the fact that the money represented the proceeds of bribery,” according to his plea agreement.
The investigation into the Calderons was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS Criminal Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mack E. Jenkins of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.