Al Jazeera America's investigative unit posted a big package of stories tonight providing rich details of an FBI sting that led to the raid in June on the offices of Democratic state Sen. Ron Calderon, his brothers and groups they control. The sting, which Al Jazeera says is described in a sealed 124-page affidavit, involved undercover FBI agents who posed as independent movie executives trying to get special tax credits for their films. A bogus producer pumps money into Calderon's hands, hires the senator's daughter and makes other financial deals with Calderon, according to Al Jazeera. In all, more than $60,000 changed hands.
The FBI affidavit...indicates that an unidentified legislative aide introduced Ronald Calderon to an undercover agent at a lunch event in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 2012. The agent presented himself as an independent movie executive with a studio in downtown L.A. Calderon described the movie tax credit program and also mentioned that his daughter, Jessica, was interested in the film industry.
Over a subsequent lunch meeting, the legal document says, Calderon and the agent brokered their deal: The movie studio would hire Jessica, and Calderon would sponsor legislation that would change the movie budget requirements for a tax credit from $1 million to $750,000.
On July 17, 2012, about a month after that lunch meeting, Calderon visited the agent’s apartment in Los Angeles. The agent told him that paying Jessica a monthly retainer was “not the industry standard,” according to the FBI account. The agent said he wasn’t paying to hire Jessica — he was hiring the senator. The affidavit describes this conversation:
“Money is not an object,” the undercover agent said. “I mean, I’m ready to write a check for the next year if that’s what you want —”
“Right, right,” Calderon said, interjecting.
By August 2012, according to the affidavit, Jessica had not performed any work for the fictitious movie studio but had received $27,000 in payments. The FBI document says that when a check arrived at Calderon’s ranch-style house in Montebello, where Jessica also lived, Calderon emailed the agent using coded language: “Package received.”
Calderon invited the agent to attend the Imagen Awards ceremony, honoring Latino entertainers, with him at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Aug. 10, 2012, the filing says. Calderon and his wife attended, and the agent came with a date of his own, another FBI operative who played the part of his girlfriend and an aspiring model. At the awards dinner, Calderon described how he planned to introduce an amendment in the Senate to lower the movie tax credit requirements. “Nobody will ever know that the reason this happened is because of you,” he told the agent, according to the FBI document. “I would not have pushed this hard if it wasn’t for you.”
The fledgling Al Jazeera America operation is clearly out to make a splash with the disclosures. "[Calderon's] days as a big spender may soon be over. The FBI is hot on his trail in an investigation that could become California’s biggest legislative scandal in more than two decades and could signal the downfall of a political dynasty," says the news operation.
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