LOS ANGELES (AP) – The FBI started seeking information about the business and political dealings of state Sen. Ron Calderon and his brother Tom, a former state assemblyman, as long ago as 2005 though the investigation only came to light this week when agents raided Ron Calderon’s offices in Sacramento.
Three people who have spoken multiple times with the FBI told The Associated Press on Thursday that agents initially were interested in virtually anything involving the brothers but more recently narrowed their questions to issues surrounding the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which paid Tom $11,000 per month as a consultant. Agents also wanted to know about Ron’s involvement in legislation affecting the district.
The three include a current and former elected official in Los Angeles County, and a man who runs a local watchdog website under the pseudonym Pedro Paramo.
All spoke on condition of anonymity because of concern the FBI would be upset by public comments about an ongoing investigation.
The FBI hasn’t disclosed any details on the investigation, which burst into the public realm late Tuesday when agents executed search warrants at Ron Calderon’s two offices. The search warrants are sealed so it’s unclear what authorities were after.
Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, hasn’t commented on the investigation. His attorney, Mark Geragos, has denied any wrongdoing by his client.
Tom Calderon’s attorney, Shepard Kopp, revealed that the FBI attempted to contact his client on Tuesday, the day of the raid. He couldn’t provide details and denies any wrongdoing by his client.
Joseph Legaspi, a spokesman for Central Basin, said the district hasn’t been contacted by the FBI and will cooperate if agents want information.
Calderon is part of a powerful Southern California political dynasty, along with his two brothers, Tom and Charles. Both brothers served in the state Legislature, and his nephew, Ian Calderon, was elected to the Assembly last year. Calderon has been considering running for state controller next year after he is termed out of the state Senate.
He has built a reputation as a moderate, business-friendly Democrat – one with an appetite for extravagant campaign fundraising events and gifts. Since 2000, he has accepted about $40,000 worth of gifts from lobbyists, more than twice as much as any other lawmaker during that period, according to a tally by The Sacramento Bee.
The Central Basin Municipal Water District is a public agency that purchases water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and then wholesales it to cities, water companies, utilities and private companies in southeast Los Angeles County.
More recent discussions with FBI agents over the last year involved questions about legislation Ron Calderon supported on behalf of the Central Basin Municipal Water District and about Tom’s connections to water contracts that his companies won while serving as a consultant to the district, according to two people who also told The Associated Press they were questioned by the FBI.
Agents wanted to know, “did we support this piece of legislation,” said an elected LA official. “They kept bringing up certain contracts… ‘Do I know about this contract, that contract, this piece of legislation related to that contract?…What relationship we have with our water board?'”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of concern the FBI would be upset by comments about an ongoing investigation.
The official said, in all, agents asked about four or five contracts awarded in the last several years to companies that were all connected to Tom Calderon and about legislation supported by Ron Calderon on water-related issues.
FBI agents asked open-ended questions such as “What do you know about the Calderons?” or “What have you heard about the Calderons lately?” In at least one case, they encouraged a former elected official to attend fundraising events or other social activities where he might encounter the Calderons.
“(They said,) ‘If you are meeting with them, we would definitely want to know what’s going on,'” the former official said. “The bureau always makes it real clear that you do what you normally do, you don’t go doing something because of us.”
Michael Franchek, former vice president of EcoGreen Services, said agents interviewed him twice and wanted to know about a contract his water conservation consulting company unsuccessfully sought from the city of Maywood, which is part of the Central Basin district. The contract went to a firm for which Tom Calderon served as president.
Calderon has introduced or opposed at least two recent pieces of legislation on behalf of the Central Basin Municipal Water District.
In 2011, he introduced a bill that would have given Central Basin authority over groundwater in the area. Committee hearings on the bill were canceled at Calderon’s request and the bill never progressed.
Last year, Calderon vehemently, but unsuccessfully, opposed a bill by then-Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, that gave control of the scarce resource to a competing water agency.
“What this legislation does is further fuel the flames of ongoing water wars” by “usurping” Central Basin’s control, Calderon declared on the Senate floor at the time, and charged that “there is other motivation behind this legislation.”
Central Basin hired an outside law firm last year to look into allegations of improper conduct and conflict of interest in awarding water contracts, including allegations involving Tom Calderon. Its 160-page report, reviewed by the AP, said no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.