SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) —A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into the alleged criminal wrongdoing of California state Sen. Ron Calderon was reportedly in connection to legislation he introduced for a Los Angeles-area water district that used his brother as a consultant.
The Sacramento offices of Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello, were raided around 3 p.m. Tuesday. Agents finally left the Capitol six hours later with a half-dozen boxes and what appeared to be a computer hard drive.
The FBI also searched a separate office assigned to Calderon in the Legislative Office Building across the street from the Capitol, said the Senate’s chief sergeant-at-arms, Tony Beard.
Beard previously stated the second site was home to the Latino Legislative Caucus office. He clarified Wednesday that the Latino Caucus moved into new offices earlier this year and its previous office was assigned to Calderon.
CBS2’s David Goldstein reported that the search could be due to complaints about “big money” water contract awards involving Central Basin Municipal Water District, which used the senator’s brother, Tom Calderon, as a consultant.
Randy Economy, an investigative reporter for Los Cerritos Community Newspaper, said the district has paid the Calderon Group, headed by Tom Calderon, $11,000 a month for consulting fees.
Joseph Legaspi of the Central Basin Water District, however, said the company’s relationship with Tom Calderon came to an end.
“The board canceled that contract back in February,” he said.
Michael Franchek, former vice president of EcoGreen Services, said agents contacted 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 board president.
Francheck told Goldstein via Skype that he talked to the FBI about the “cozy relationship” between the water district and Tom Calderon.
“These water authorities yield a great deal of power and generate a great deal of revenue…I would submit that anytime there’s that degree of power and generation of revenue, there stands the opportunity for misuse or manipulation for people’s benefits,” he said. “I think the true victims are people of that region who are forced to pay higher water rates, pay these inflated salaries to these people who are gaming the system.”
Meanwhile, a Los Angeles-area elected official said agents asked him about legislation written by Ron Calderon on behalf of Central Basin. The official also said agents wanted to know about four or five contracts awarded in the last several years to companies connected to Tom Calderon.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of concern the FBI would be upset by public comments about an ongoing investigation.
In the last two years, Ron Calderon first introduced a bill and then tried unsuccessfully to block another bill giving authority over groundwater to a neighboring district of the Central Basin.
Local officials have complained for years that the Central Basin has raised water rates and failed to provide transparency about its own spending.
U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., said in a statement Wednesday that cities had requested assistance from her office and she’s hopeful communities now are “finally able to get answers to the questions they have had for so long.”
In 2009, she asked state auditors to review the Central Basin district’s operations. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she blamed Calderon for her audit request going nowhere.
“This is ratepayer money,” she said. “It’s not the Central Basin’s money.”
Downey Mayor Mario Guerra testified before the audit committee last year that Central Basin was not being properly managed and it was impacting the city’s water rates. The committee instead called for an audit that included Downey’s Department of Public Works, Guerra said.
That audit was sought by then-Assemblyman and now Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who was chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. He now is vice chairman of the audit committee and chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, of which Calderon is a former leader.
Calderon’s fellow lawmakers have said little about the investigation. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said that if asked, lawmakers will cooperate with the FBI.
“We’ve got nothing to hide,” the Sacramento Democrat said. “This is not going to be a distraction. It’s unfortunate, the process will play itself out, and we will go from there.”
Calderon can remain in office while the investigation continues, and even if charges are filed.
The state Constitution does provide, however, that members may be expelled by a two-thirds vote by other members.
Calderon hasn’t commented on the federal probe. His attorney, Mark Geragos, has denied any wrongdoing and called the investigation a witch hunt.
“This is a leak from the U.S. Department of Justice. They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
Calderon, who was elected to the senate in 2006, represents Montebello, Whittier, Bell, Pico Rivera, South Gate and La Mirada, among other cities.
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