Former California senator agrees to admit corruption

Former California state senator Ronald S. Calderon has agreed to plead guilty to a federal corruption charge and admits in a plea agreement filed Monday that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for performing official acts as a legislator.

Calderon, 58, of Montebello agreed to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud through the deprivation of honest services to resolve a case against him that was filed in 2014. The plea agreement comes several weeks before Calderon was scheduled to go on trial on charges contained in a 24-count indictment.

In the plea agreement, Calderon admits accepting bribe payments from the owner of a Long Beach hospital who wanted a law to remain in effect so he could continue to reap millions of dollars in illicit profits from a separate fraud scheme and from undercover FBI agents who were posing as independent filmmakers who wanted changes to California’s film tax credit program.

Calderon’s brother, Thomas M. Calderon, 62, also of Montebello, a former member of the California State Assembly who became a political consultant, pleaded guilty last week to a federal money laundering charge for allowing bribe money earmarked for his brother to be funneled through his firm.

“Public officials who engage in corrupt behavior threaten the basic fabric of our democracy,” said U. S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The Calderons have acknowledged their roles in a bribery scheme in which money for them and their families alone was driving legislation that would have benefited only a few individuals.”

Ronald Calderon is expected to plead guilty to the mail fraud charge this week before U. S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder.

In the plea agreement, Calderon admitted participating in a bribery scheme involving two areas of legislation and the hiring of a staffer at the behest of those paying bribes.

In the first part of the bribery scheme, Calderon took bribes from Michael Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, which was a major provider of spinal surgeries that were often paid by workers’ compensation programs.

The spinal surgeries are at the center of a massive healthcare fraud scheme that Drobot orchestrated and to which he previously pleaded guilty. Ronald Calderon is not implicated in the healthcare fraud scheme. Drobot was a client of Tom Calderon’s political consulting firm.

California law known as the spinal pass-through legislation allowed a hospital to pass on to insurance companies the full cost it had paid for medical hardware it used during spinal surgeries. As Drobot admitted in court, his hospital exploited this law, typically by using hardware that had been purchased at highly-inflated prices from companies that Drobot controlled and passing this cost along to insurance providers.

Drobot bribed Ronald Calderon so that he would use his public office to preserve this law that helped Drobot maintain a long-running and lucrative healthcare fraud scheme, which included  Calderon asking a fellow senator to introduce legislation favorable to Drobot.

In another part of the bribery scheme, Calderon accepted bribes from people he thought were associated with an independent film studio, but who were in fact undercover FBI agents.

As part of Calderon’s plea agreement, federal prosecutors have agreed not to seek a sentence of more than 70 months in federal prison.

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