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FBI started asking about Calif. lawmaker years ago
Thursday - 6/6/2013, 8:55pm EDT
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's Sacramento offices.
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 former elected official said the FBI encouraged him to attend fundraising events or other social activities where he might encounter the Calderons. He said agents instructed him to only attend events he would go to anyway so he wouldn't raise suspicion.
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.
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 but couldn't provide details. He also denied his client did anything wrong.
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 that includes his two brothers, Tom and Charles. Both served in the state Legislature, and Charles' son, Ian Calderon, was elected to the Assembly last year.
Ron Calderon 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.
He is termed out of the Senate next year and is considering running for state controller.
Calderon has introduced or opposed at least two recent pieces of legislation on behalf of Central Basin, which serves cities, water companies, utilities and private companies in southeast Los Angeles County.
In 2011, he sponsored 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 unsuccessfully opposed a bill by then-Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, that gave control of certain groundwater 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."
A second elected official from LA County told the AP on Wednesday that FBI agents asked him earlier this year about four or five water contracts awarded in the last several years to companies connected to Tom Calderon and about legislation supported by Ron Calderon on water-related issues.
Agents "kept bringing up certain contracts," said the official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of concern the FBI would be upset by comments about an ongoing investigation. "Do I know about this contract, that contract, this piece of legislation related to that contract?"
Central Basin's former manager, Art Aguilar, said he's known the Calderon brothers for a long time and always found them to be honest.
"There was nothing they did with the district that wasn't on the up-and-up," said Aguilar, who retired last October. "Ron was our state senator. He carried bills for us, he carried bills for others. There were no kickbacks or anything of that type."
Associated Press reporter Greg Risling contributed to this report. Thompson reported from Sacramento, Calif. Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams .
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.