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Caucus weary of Calderón case

SACRAMENTO — Hours before several members of the Latino Legislative Caucus held their first roundtable discussion with the media outlining their legislative priorities for the year, one of their members, State Senator Ron Calderón, a Democrat from the Los Ángeles County city of Montebello had his Capitol office raided by the FBI.

That same Tuesday June 4, the offices of the Caucus — located in the Legislative Office Building across the street from the Capitol were also raided.

Search warrants were issued at approximately 3PM.

Agents carried away a half-a-dozen boxes and a computer hard drive during the over six-hour long raid.Sen. Ron Calderón was nowhere to be found in the Capitol building.

At a time when Latinos — who comprise nearly 40 percent of the state and are the fastest growing minority ethnic group in the country overall, and in many ways, are stepping up to the plate in terms of political clout and representation throughout the state — the raids represent more than just a simple cause for worry.

“What happened will certainly put a cloud on the work we are doing,” said Latino Caucus Chair Sen. Ricardo Lara D-Bell Gardens.

“Even though we were mistakenly involved in what happened, this investigation minimized the work we have planned out for our constituencies and the state, especially for the Latino community,” added Lara.

A day after the raids—the California Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Tony Beard Jr. retracted his original statement that the FBI had searched the office of the Latino Caucus.

Instead, he said the agents searched two offices that belonged to Sen. Calderón.

“Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation served sealed warrants to search an office in the State Capitol and the Legislative Office Building. One of those offices was erroneously identified as an office of the Legislative Latino Caucus, based on an outdated roster of room numbers. The Legislative Latino Caucus moved into new offices earlier this year,” said Beard in a statement to the media.

“Both offices that are subject to the sealed search warrants are the offices of Sen. Calderón; one in the Capitol building and the other in the Legislative Office Building.”

The FBI investigation — which has been sealed by order of the Federal Court — has left much room for speculation about what it could be about. Much of it has hurt the image of the Latino Caucus.

“What happened was very unique. Nothing like this has happened in over 30 years so I felt like people were just reporting on things without double checking the facts and going off on different assumptions, writing stories or tweeting facts about our fundraising and our members and so forth,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara D-Bell Gardens and Chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus.

That last time federal agents raided the Capitol was during the ‘Shrimpscam’ in 1985 when several federal agents went undercover and posed as representatives of a phony shrimp-processing company. As a result, five lawmakers went to prison for taking bribes in the FBI sting operation.

Lara says the Caucus is fully cooperating with the investigation but feels many of the reports that have been circulating in the form of rumors have hurt the Caucus.

“This whole thing — the investigation — it became almost a witch-hunt to uncover different things. A hysteria took over without people really checking what was really happening,” he said.

Still, he understands some of the reasons why the Caucus fell under the microscope.

A few days after the raids, State Senator Kevin de León D-Los Angeles said he received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Ángeles.

In a statement he said he intended “to cooperate fully” but did not provide any details of the request because the U.S. attorney’s office has requested confidentiality.

Fifty-five-year-old Calderón — who hails from a family often coined a ‘political dynasty’ — is an active member of the Legislative Latino Caucus and is currently serving out his final two years as a representative of the 30th Senate District. In 2010, he served as the Vice-Chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus when former Assemblymember Tony Mendoza, a Democrat from Norwalk was Chair.

Two of Calderón’s brothers have previously served in the Legislature including Charles and Tom Calderón — and all were former members of the Caucus. The exception is his nephew, Assemblyman Ian Calderón D-Whittier who represents the 57th Assembly district and is the youngest legislator in the state. He is part of the ‘Surf Caucus’ at the State Capitol, but not a member of the Legislative Latino Caucus.

The fact that a Latino “scandal” has stolen the spotlight against the Caucus’s priorities is “frustrating” said Lara.“To see that there is this innate, latent prejudice that took over and people rushing to write the next story and get something out — that was really frustrating for me as Chairman. We asked people to correct stories and get the facts straight but we saw hesitation and that was disheartening,” said Lara.

No information about the investigation has been provided by FBI officials and Caucus members are unable to comment.

“I can’t speak about the situation because nobody has information. Nobody knows what is going on. Sen. Calderón’s participation in the Caucus — just like every other member — was welcomed and valued,” said Lara.

Calderón — who was the chairman of the state Senate’s Insurance Committee, as well as three select committees: Film and Television Industries, International Business and Trade, and Economic Development — was first elected to the state Senate in 2006, having served two terms in the State Assembly.

His oldest brother, Charles Calderón, served in the state Senate from 1990 to 1998, and his older brother, Thomas Calderón, served in the assembly from 1998 to 2002, according to his Senate biography.

Before being elected to public office, he worked as a mortgage banker, a real estate agent, as a manufacturing manager and marketing firm owner.

Last week, Sen. Calderón held a press conference after being absent from the Capitol in over a week and told reporters in a 3-minute press conference he too, had “many questions and not enough answers.”

“My intention at this point is to do my job I was elected to do, attend my hearings, get my bills passed out of committee to the floor and do the work of the state,” he said.

Beard, said the Senate has and will continue to fully cooperate with the agents in the investigation as it continues to unfold.

Caucus members though cautious—will continue to work toward their legislative goals.“Sen. Calderón — he, like everybody else —is entitled to his day in court and to defend himself,” said Lara.

“We have gotten together as a caucus and we will continue pushing our agenda and continuing to work together and ensure that we elect more Latinos into the legislature. There are people who want to work with us and know we are doing a good job,” said Lara.

Lara pointed to the Caucus’s budget priorities being implemented in the state budget and said nine out of the ten bills the Caucus listed as their legislative priorities are “still alive and moving forward.”

“We have made good strides and we will continue to fight for Latinos in California, the community and our constituencies. The focus right now is our work,” said Lara.

Send e-mail to:cmoreno@vidaenelvalle.com

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