Dan Walters

June 6, 2013

Latino Caucus not a raid target, officials say

A day after FBI agents descended on two legislative offices in Sacramento, officials corrected themselves and said that the office of the Latino Legislative Caucus was not a target.

A day after FBI agents descended on two legislative offices in Sacramento, officials corrected themselves and said that the office of the Latino Legislative Caucus was not a target.

The second office searched, in the legislative office building, also belonged to Sen. Ron Calderon, whose Capitol office the FBI searched.

"One of those offices was erroneously identified as an office of the Legislative Latino Caucus, based on an outdated roster of room numbers," Tony Beard, the Senate sergeant at arms, said in a statement, adding that "both offices that are subject to the sealed search warrants are the offices of Senator Calderon."

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the searches.

The Senate Rules Committee met in a closed-door session Wednesday with attorney William Portanova, who advises the Senate on legal matters. He would not comment about the raid. Sources told The Bee they expect subpoenas to be served at the Capitol and lawmakers to be questioned as the investigation continues.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, making his first comments since the FBI moved in Tuesday, said he was saddened by the developments but vowed that the law enforcement activity would not distract the upper house.

"Of course this is sad, but we don't know what it's about," Steinberg said. "It's an investigation, and it's properly in the hands of law enforcement."

The Calderon family is a political dynasty with members from two generations serving in the Legislature. After Tom Calderon left the Assembly and took on consulting work with the Central Basin Municipal Water District, his brothers continued to pursue legislation that would have directly affected the water district.

That alliance was an open secret, said Ron Beilke, a former Pico Rivera city councilman who worked for the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and, briefly, for the Central Basin water district.

"Anybody in our area knows Tom Calderon basically walked around with a bat, and his bat was Chuck and Ron up in the Legislature," Beilke said. "One of the things that drove people crazy was the two brothers simultaneously would sponsor bills" that paralleled Tom's work.

FBI agents mentioned probing the Calderon family earlier this year when they interviewed an executive at a water firm, Michael Franchek, who complained about Tom Calderon's role in contract dealings with the Central Basin water district.

Franchek said his firm, Ecogreen Services, lost a contract at the last minute to a firm affiliated with George Cole, who was subsequently convicted with several other public officials in a corruption trial involving the city of Bell.

Franchek said another firm had a similar experience with a contract slipping away, in that case going to a firm linked to Ron Calderon's brother Tom.

Tom Calderon's role as a paid consultant for the Central Basin water district was terminated earlier this year, agency spokesman Joseph Legaspi said. He said district officials were not aware that the FBI had interviewed people who had concerns with how the water agency conducted business.

"We're following the news along with everyone," Legaspi said, adding that "at this time, to my knowledge, we have not been contacted by anyone" from the FBI.

Members of the Calderon family were not available for comment.

Mark Geragos, Ron Calderon's attorney, said in a previous interview with The Bee that investigators "have no case."

"The U.S. attorney's office should be ashamed of themselves," Geragos said.

Concerns about water rate hikes and project management have prompted lawmakers to call for audits of the Central Basin agency in the past. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, assailed the agency for not being more forthright about how it spends money, particularly federal stimulus dollars.

"This has been a frustration for over a decade for the cities that requested assistance from my office in gaining transparency," Napolitano said in a press release.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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