Embattled state Sen. Ron Calderon says federal authorities wanted him to wear a wire and record conversations with the Senate leader and another lawmaker, and after he refused they tried to ruin his reputation by raiding his offices and leaking an FBI affidavit alleging he took money in return for promoting bills.
Calderon, who has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing, made the allegations in a complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. The Democrat from the Los Angeles-area city of Montebello asked a judge to hold federal investigators and prosecutors in contempt for leaking the sealed affidavit, which was written to support a search warrant for Calderon's Sacramento offices.
The filing includes a copy of a receipt for a wireless transmitter on the letterhead of Calderon's lawyer, Mark Geragos.
Calderon's complaint said the senator was approached six times by FBI agents and twice by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Miller demanding that he “participate in a sting operation” against Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de Leon and “secretly record conversations” with them.
“The FBI affidavit omitted facts that just days before the affidavit was prepared, the FBI was attempting to use Senator Calderon as an informant against Senators Steinberg and de Leon,” the complaint alleged.
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Calderon is lashing out after Steinberg had Calderon stripped of his committee assignments earlier this week.
Steinberg's spokesman, Mark Hedlund, said the U.S. attorney's office has sent Steinberg a letter saying he is considered a potential witness but is not a target of the investigation. Steinberg did not release the letter.
De Leon, D-Los Angeles, received a similar letter dated Nov. 1 and did release it.
Spokespeople for the FBI in Sacramento and Los Angeles, and for the U.S. attorney's offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles, declined to comment on Calderon's claims.
The affidavit was leaked to Al Jazeera America, which reported on it two weeks ago and did not disclose how it was obtained. Leaking a sealed affidavit is a crime, and federal authorities are investigating.
The affidavit alleges Calderon accepted $28,000 from a Long Beach hospital executive to promote favorable legislation for the executive's institution. It also claims Calderon took $60,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as the owner of a Los Angeles movie company in return for the senator's promotion of a bill expanding tax credits for the film industry.
The document includes an alleged conversation between Calderon and an undercover FBI agent in which the senator says his relationship with Steinberg was responsible for the Senate leader supporting the effort to lower the threshold for film industry tax credits, though the bill ultimately failed.
Steinberg said he met one time several years ago with the hospital executive and with Calderon's brother, Tom, but did not agree with their position on the legislation that would have benefited the hospital.
Steinberg said he “heard them out and … went the other way.” He added, “My reputation is above reproach.”
No one has been charged in the investigation.
A former U.S. attorney and a former FBI agent who had no direct knowledge of the Calderon investigation said it would not be unusual for federal agents to try to enlist the help of a target.
“That's a tried-and-true process,” said McGregor Scott, a private attorney who until 2009 was the chief federal prosecutor based in Sacramento.
However, agents wouldn't typically give a subject a wireless transmitter to use unsupervised, as the Calderon complaint suggested, said James Wedick, a former FBI agent. Wedick led the 1985 sting operation involving a fake shrimp processing company that sent five California legislators to prison for taking bribes.
“It would almost be like a controlled drug buy,” Wedick said. “You'll be wired up, taken to the event … and then when it's over, come back out, turn over the recorder.”