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California senator pleads not guilty to corruption

Monday - 2/24/2014, 10:36pm  ET

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, ponders a question while discussing the corruption charges facing Sen. Ron Calderon, after a closed door meeting with Senate Democrats at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday Feb. 24, 2014. Steinberg said Democratic lawmakers will give Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello, one week to resign or take an indefinite leave of absence. If he does not, the Senate will move to suspend him. Calderon was arraigned Monday in Los Angeles on charges that he accepted $100,000 in bribes and trips. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

LINDA DEUTSCH
AP Special Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- 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 various forms of fraud along with conspiracy, money laundering and aiding the filing of false tax returns.

His wife and daughter were in court for the brief hearing.

Calderon surrendered to authorities earlier Monday. He was expected to be released the same day on a $50,000 bond, surrendering his passport and agreeing to remain within the continental United States.

If convicted of all charges, the potential sentence 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.

"Senator Calderon has been accused of very serious crimes, but he hasn't been convicted of anything. And thus, expulsion would be premature," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

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. Steinberg said the charges against him represent serious violations of the chamber's ethics rules.

Steinberg also said representatives from his office had been in touch with Calderon's representatives.

"I am hopeful that we can work this out in a way that is best for the Senate and best for him, so we will see," he said.

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 may need to work on his criminal case.

"All things being equal, that is what he loves to do," Geragos said of Calderon's senatorial duties.

Calderon is "in relatively good spirits" and urged people to "take a deep breath and not reach conclusions" before the evidence is disclosed in court.

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 worker's 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.

Calderon's brother, Tom, pleaded not guilty last week to eight counts of money laundering and conspiracy. He is free on bond.

___

Associated Press writer Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.


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