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Lawmaker in FBI probe returns in diminished role
January 07, 2014, 05:00 AM By Don Thompson The Associated

SACRAMENTO — An embattled state senator said Monday that he intends to keep working with his fellow lawmakers despite an ongoing federal corruption investigation and a bitter finger-pointing exchange with Senate leaders.

No charges have been filed against Democrat Ron Calderon of Montebello, who again denied wrongdoing in brief comments to reporters after the Senate adjourned.

Calderon said he was eager to join his colleagues, although there are signs they might not be so happy to see him.

FBI agents raided Calderon’s Sacramento offices in June, and an FBI affidavit leaked in October alleges that he accepted nearly $90,000 from an undercover FBI agent and a Long Beach hospital executive in efforts to influence legislation.

His assigned seat in the Senate chambers has been moved from front-and-center to a far corner, next to a vacant desk. He also has been stripped of all committee assignments while the investigation continues.

“I don’t have a problem sitting there, as long as I have a microphone and I can present my bills and vote,” Calderon told reporters.

He also said losing his committee assignments gives him “more time to work on some legislation and do more work in the district.”

When the Senate convened in the afternoon, Calderon entered the chamber several minutes late, drawing attention as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg was welcoming lawmakers back for the new year.

Throughout the afternoon, the veteran politician seemed cheerfully resigned to his downgraded status.

He shook hands with fellow Democrats Lou Correa, of Anaheim, and Mark Leno, of San Francisco, as he made his way across the front of the chamber to his seat. Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, came over to Calderon’s desk to shake hands, while Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, exchanged hugs.

“I have done nothing wrong. That will come out in the wash,” Calderon told reporters later, although he referred questions about the ongoing investigation to his attorney.

“Call Al-Jazeera — they know more than I do,” he said, referring to the news organization that first reported on the FBI affidavit.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, said Monday that he could not comment on the status of the investigation, which has been underway since 2007.

In his own court filing in November, made in response to the leaked affidavit, Calderon said he was asked to wear a recording device in a failed attempt to implicate Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, a top candidate to replace Steinberg this year as Senate leader.

Both have denied doing anything wrong and said federal prosecutors have notified them that they are not targets of the investigation.

Calderon told reporters his court filing was “part of my defending myself. So I don’t have any hard feelings.” Referring to Steinberg, he said, “I don’t know how he feels.”

Steinberg later told reporters that he shifted Calderon’s seat assignment because, “I’m doing what I think is in the best interest of the house.” The Senate leader acknowledged that the investigation is a distraction but said part of his job is to minimize the disruption.

“What happens on the legal front will happen, but I am always going to be about putting the house first and putting the institution first,” he said.

In addition to being stripped of his committee assignments in November, Calderon was removed from the California Film Commission and the executive board of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

Calderon acknowledged that the investigation makes it somewhat awkward to return to the Senate.

“Unfortunately, I’m getting used to it because this is an everyday occurrence,” he said of the media attention. “It makes it difficult to do my work, but I’m managing.”



Tags: calderon, senate, investigation, steinberg, reporters, committee,

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