California politician shows little remorse, gets prison time

FILE - In this June 10, 2013 file photo, then-California State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, discusses the FBI raid on his Capitol office in Sacramento. Federal prosecutors are seeking a five year sentence for Calderon who took bribes in exchange for supporting legislation. Calderon faces sentencing Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in U.S. District Court for a scandal that rocked the state senate and tarnished his family’s political dynasty. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
FILE - In this June 10, 2013 file photo, then-California State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, discusses the FBI raid on his Capitol office in Sacramento. Federal prosecutors are seeking a five year sentence for Calderon who took bribes in exchange for supporting legislation. Calderon faces sentencing Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in U.S. District Court for a scandal that rocked the state senate and tarnished his family’s political dynasty. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former state Sen. Ron Calderon was sentenced Friday to 3½ years in federal prison after showing little remorse for a corruption scandal that tarnished his family’s Southern California political dynasty.

Calderon made an emotional plea to stay out of prison to a judge who said he had not accepted responsibility or apologized to California’s citizens for taking bribes in exchange for his influence in the state capitol.

“My goal was to do the right thing for California,” said Calderon who asked Judge Christina Snyder for home confinement. “At no point did I ever intend to break that law.”

After he spoke, Snyder said she had contemplated putting him behind bars for four years because his request for leniency was self-serving. But she said the shorter term was significant and would send a message to the longtime lawmaker.

“The evidence was overwhelming. He knew exactly what he was doing,” Snyder said, adding that Calderon and his family reaped the benefits of the bribes. “The crime is significant. I think it’s a true public corruption case.”

Federal prosecutors had asked for a 5-year prison term in a blistering brief that mocked Calderon for making false and misleading claims about bribes he took and distorting his previous admissions in court.

“Defendant asks this court to endorse his view that an elected official who repeatedly and egregiously abuses the trust of the electorate warrants essentially the lowest possible sanction for a federal conviction,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins wrote.

Jenkins added that Calderon’s request to serve the sentence at his home in a Los Angeles suburb would “continue to trivialize his corrupt actions, as he does throughout his sentencing position, and continue to evade true accountability.”

Calderon was ordered to report to prison Jan. 3, and his sentencing brought an end to an ugly chapter in California politics that saw three state Democratic senators indicted in 2014. It ruined his record of public service and damaged his family’s political reputation.

“This is going to be the opening paragraph of his obituary,” defense lawyer Mark Geragos said. “This is going to obliterate 30 years of public service.”

Calderon, 59, pleaded guilty to a single count of mail fraud in June and admitted to soliciting more than $155,000 in payments or financial benefits in exchange for supporting or blocking legislation.

He took $12,000 worth of trips to Las Vegas from an undercover FBI agent who posed as the owner of a Los Angeles movie studio seeking his support for film tax credits, though the legislation never passed, according to his signed plea agreement.

The agent hired Calderon’s daughter for a $3,000 a month no-show job and paid $5,000 toward his son’s college tuition.

Calderon also acknowledged helping a hospital owner maintain a massive health care fraud scheme in exchange for hiring his son for $10,000 each summer over three years for no more than 15 days of work a season filing papers.

The defendant’s brother, ex-Assemblyman Thomas Calderon, who was a consultant to the hospital, was also caught up in the FBI investigation.

Thomas Calderon, 62, pleaded guilty to laundering some of the bribes and was recently sentenced to 10 months in prison. Half of that term was to be served at home.

The two Montebello Democrats had followed their older brother, Charles Calderon, to Sacramento, where he served in both chambers of the Legislature before they were elected.

After the indictments came down against his brothers, Charles Calderon lost a race for a seat on the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench. His son, Ian Calderon, is a Democrat in the state Assembly.

Calderon’s wife and two children were with him in court, but his brothers were not. Calderon said the scandal had ruined his relationship with them.

The legal troubles for the two younger Calderon brothers in 2014 came at an embarrassing time for Senate Democrats. Fellow Sens. Leland Yee and Rod Wright were facing unrelated felony charges.

All three were suspended, though they continued to be paid under rules later reversed by voters to give state lawmakers the ability to suspend colleagues’ pay and voting power if accused of wrongdoing in office.

Yee, of San Francisco, was sentenced to five years in federal prison in an organized crime case centered in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Wright was convicted of lying about living outside his Los Angeles district and sentenced to three months in jail.

Jaime Regalado, a political science professor at California State University, Los Angeles, said the convictions of the Calderons were symbolically important, but he didn’t think they would have a big impact on future corruption.

“The public would like to think the convictions and sentences of Tom and Ron would help clean up Sacramento and the body politic, as well as strike fear in the hearts of legislators who are willing to engage in illegal gambits with the public’s money,” Regalado said.

“There’s a lot of greed that continues to go around,” he added, “so this will be a drop in the pan.”

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