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Judge sends former legislator to prison for three and a half years

LOS ANGELES — Former state Sen. Ron Calderon was sentenced Oct. 21 to 3 1/2 years behind bars in what a federal judge called “a true public corruption case” that also involved the ex-lawmaker’s brother.

Calderon, 59, also was sentenced to serve a year of supervised release, including 150 hours of community service, following his prison term. U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ordered Calderon to turn himself in to U.S. marshals on Jan. 3 to begin his sentence.

“The crime is significant,” the judge said. “This is a true public corruption case.”

Speaking at length, Calderon asked the judge for home detention and listed various medical complaints that he insisted should preclude him from a prison term. He said he only pleaded guilty to protect his family from the rigors of a long trial.

“My goal was to do the right thing for California,” the disgraced ex-politician said. “At no point did I intend to break the law.”

Calderon was accused of soliciting and accepting $100,000 in cash bribes, in addition to receiving a raft of plane trips, gourmet meals and golf resort junkets in exchange for championing laws favorable to those who paid him and working against laws that could harm them.

Snyder said Calderon was “complicit” in the bribery scheme and has shown little remorse.

“I did not really hear Senator Calderon accept responsibility or offer an apology to the people of California he served,” the judge said, adding that she was tempted to extend his sentence beyond 42 months after hearing his statement.

Eileen Decker, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said Calderon should consider himself “very fortunate” that Snyder did not follow up on the impulse.

“He tried everything not to accept responsibility,” Decker told reporters.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack E. Jenkins argued for a five-year prison term for the defendant, who in June entered into a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud.

Calderon’s “trafficking in his legislative votes” for over $150,000 in cash and other benefits “caused a reverberation of negative effects throughout California and put a stain not just on his career, but on the reputation of the state legislature,” Jenkins stated in court papers.

He noted that Calderon, a Montebello Democrat, “admitted to participating in two substantial and complex bribery schemes that entailed multiple forms of bribes, concealment and sophisticated money laundering. Here, defendant sold his vote not just to help pay for the expenses of living beyond his means, but for the more banal and predictable aims of corruption — fancy luxuries, fancy parties and fancy people.”

Calderon’s attorney, Mark Geragos, argued that the government “entrapped” his client, and urged Snyder to give the former lawmaker time already served or a period of home detention.

“When he passes on, this is going to be the opening paragraph of his obituary,” Geragos said, adding that the case will “obliterate” Calderon’s years of public service.

Calderon’s elder brother, Tom, was sentenced in September to a 10-month split sentence of federal prison and electronic monitoring for helping conceal bribe money that his brother received during an FBI sting.

The former Montebello-area assemblyman pleaded guilty to a money laundering count in which he admitted allowing $30,000 from an undercover agent to be funneled through his Calderon Group as payment for his younger brother to support lowering the threshold for California’s film tax credit from $1 million to $750,000.

The Calderon brothers were indicted in February 2014 on two dozen counts, including wire fraud, mail fraud, honest services fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.

Jenkins wrote that the case was representative of a climate in Sacramento “where waves of dark money infect politics and flood the worlds of many politicians.”

Deirdre Fike, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the agency’s Los Angeles office, said the ex-senator’s motivation to take bribes was so he could “live a flashy lifestyle.”

Ron Calderon was suspended from the state Senate in March 2014, and his term in office ended nine months later.

Tom Calderon, now 62, represented his Montebello-area district in the California Assembly from 1998 to 2002.