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In Wake Of Sting, Sen. Ron Calderon Removed From State Film Panel

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A day after details emerged about an elaborate sting operation in which an FBI agent posing as a movie producer allegedly paid bribes to state Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello, the lawmaker was abruptly removed from his post on the California Film Commission.

State Senate President Darrell Steinberg made the announcement Thursday.

“This is serious stuff, and it doesn’t reflect well on the individual involved, obviously,” Steinberg said. “But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do everything in my power to make sure that it doesn’t reflect badly on this institution that I love…. I run this place, and we run this place, with integrity.”

When asked if Calderon should continue to serve in the California Senate, Steinberg replied, “i certainly have my doubts.”

Calderon was the subject of a scathing report Wednesday on Al Jazeera America in which the network revealed details of an an FBI affidavit. According to the document, the undercover agent paid Calderon about $60,000 in bribes in exchange for the lawmaker’s support for legislation that would provide lucrative tax breaks for small studios.

KCAL9’s Randy Paige says the undercover FBI agent involved in the sting went by the name Rocky Patel and purported to be an independent movie producer.

Several years  years ago, the agent approached  United Pacific Studios, a company in downtown Los Angeles that produces low-budget independent films such as “The Sinatra Club.”

Crystal Wortman, a studio official, told Paige that the man calling himself Patel brought so much business to the studio that he was given the title of president. “Rocky walked the walk and talked the talk,” Wortman said. “I believed he was a producer.”

The undercover agent’s picture — which CBSLA is not using to protect his identity — was found online, with the purported producer being seen with actor Steven Bauer and former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. There was also a picture of the agent standing with Calderon.

Wortman said the man calling himself Patel left abruptly in early summer, saying he had a family emergency. That was about the same time that federal agents raided Calderon’s office in the Capitol.

Thursday, no one answered the door at Calderon’s Montebello home. A spokesman for the senator said he won’t be making any comment. Also, the FBI is said it is opening an investigation into who leaked the affidavit to Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, just as Steinberg said he worried that Calderon’s actions reflected poorly on the California Senate, people in the film business are worried about how the affair will reflect on their industry.

In Pasadena, Paul Audley, president of FilmLA Inc., which works to streamline the permit process for location filming, told KCAL9’s Dave Bryan on Thursday that lawmakers could become hesitant to support tax breaks for the industry.

“None of the film industry was actually involved, there’s no evidence …  that anyone actually in the film industry participated in attempting to bribe public officials,” Audley noted,  “but that doesn’t mean people will understand that or that politicians won’t be afraid that people won’t understand that, and they may want to step back from this [tax-break] issue because of the tarnish it’s put on it.”

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