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California pol claims FBI targeted him when he wouldn't 'sting' top Democrats

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, talks to reporters on June 10, 2013, during his first appearance at the Capitol after FBI investigators raided his offices the previous week in Sacramento, Calif.

A California lawmaker whose office was raided by the FBI after he was allegedly caught taking bribes has accused federal authorities of targeting him because he refused to wear a wire and “sting” two of the state’s top Democrats.

In a federal complaint filed Wednesday in Sacramento, State Sen. Ronald Calderon, D-Montebello, claims federal authorities asked him at least eight times to try to sting Sen. Darrell Steinberg, leader of the state senate’s Democratic majority, and Sen. Kevin de Leon.

The filing also asks the judge to hold federal investigators in contempt for allegedly leaking an FBI affidavit that details a sting against Calderon in which he allegedly accepted more than $60,000 from undercover agents and directed thousands more to his children in exchange for sponsoring favorable legislation.

The affidavit describes a June 2012 meeting between an undercover agent and Calderon in which Calderon allegedly says, “I told you man, anything you can do, any help you could do for my kids is, you know – that’s diamonds for me. That’s diamonds.”

Calderon has not been charged, but the affidavit alleges there is probable cause to believe that a search of Calderon's office would yield evidence of bribery, fraud and extortion. 

In Wednesday’s filing by attorney Mark Geragos, Calderon alleges that federal authorities were interested in Steinberg’s financial dealings, including his relationships with donors to his political action committees. The two-term senator says he refused to go along with a plan to wear a wire in discussions with Steinberg and de Leon, and returned a recording device to the FBI. The filing does not detail how, why or for how long Calderon might have cooperated with authorities.

Calderon’s claim comes months after a publicized FBI raid on his Sacramento office. Federal authorities had released little information about the investigation, but last month al Jazeera gave the details of the FBI’s alleged sting of Calderon, including the 125-page affidavit filed in support of the search warrant. Included as an exhibit in Wednesday court filing, the affidavit describes a bribery scheme that allegedly included participation and payments to Calderon’s family members.

Authorities alleged that Calderon accepted a $60,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio head in exchange for his support of legislation in the state senate that would lower the amount of money filmmakers would have to spend on a film to qualify for a California tax credit. Calderon proposed a law that would lower the minimum budget from $1 million to $750,000.

The affidavit also claims that Calderon hired an FBI undercover agent as senate staffer and that nine $3,000 payments were made to Calderon’s daughter, Jessica “as part of an employment agreement drafted by the Senator.” Calderon’s daughter allegedly received the payments,  said the affidavit, even though “she has never done any work for the UC [Undercover].”

In setting up the job, Calderon told the undercover agent his daughter and some associates were working on a script for “American Gigolo 2,” apparently a sequel to the Richard Gere hit from 30 years ago, and were looking for producers. The undercover agent suggested that the budget for the proposed  film be set at $500,000 -- and said the project might be worth investing in if the threshold tax legislation was lowered to that amount.

Mention of the tax credit would put the undercover agent’s investors “over the roof,” the affidavit states.

The FBI also alleges in the affidavit that Calderon accepted $28,000 in bribes from Michael D. Drobot, the CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, in exchange for supporting legislation that “delay or limit changes in California’s workers’ compensation laws relating to the amount of medical care providers are reimbursed for performing spinal surgeries.”

The bribe payments were disguised “as payments to Calderon’s son Zachary,” who attends Berklee College of Music but worked for Drobot during his summer break, according to the affidavit. Drobot also had been paying Calderon’s brother, former State Assemblyman Thomas Calderon, about $10,000 per month as a consultant in connection with spinal surgery legislation, which authorities say in the affidavit they have probable cause  to believe is “in connection with the bribery scheme.”

The complaint filed Wednesday by Calderon's counsel calls the allegations in the affidavit "false and defamatory." Calderon alleges that his office was raided after he refused to “secretly record conversations with Senator Steinberg and Senator de Leon.” His complaint accuses Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Miller of involvement in “a string of illegal leaks” that stretch back to the Lance Armstrong doping case in 2010, and charges that the FBI and prosecutors “engaged in a campaign to smear the reputation of Sen. Calderon and convict him in the press and public before a grand jury was assembled and while it was hearing evidence.”

He also alleges that when Miller said Sen. de Leon was not the target of an investigation, he was not being truthful, and that the FBI’s announcement that the Justice Department was investigating the source of the sealed affidavit’s leak was “little more than the fox guarding the proverbial henhouse.”

Steinberg, as party leader in the senate, removed Calderon from his senate committee assignments after the raid on his office.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office had immediate comment on the filing. Representatives of Thomas Calderon and Sen. Steinberg did not immediately return calls from NBC News for comment. A representative of Michael Drobot also did not respond to a request for comment. 

Sen. de Leon issued a statement saying that the U.S. Attorney's office had asked him to "assist their investigation as a witness." He said he had done so, "per the letter released from the U.S. Attorney's office, which also made clear that I am neither a subject or target of the investigation."

"Nothing is more important than protecting the integrity of our governing process," said the statement.

In a statement to the Sacramento Bee, Steinberg said Calderon’s filing is “pure fantasy.” De Leon declined to discuss the allegations with the newspaper but previously said he was not a target of the FBI investigation.

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