Former Assemblyman Tom Calderon pleads guilty in federal money laundering case
Former Democratic Assemblyman Tom Calderon on Monday pleaded guilty to one felony count of money laundering as part of an agreement in which federal prosecutors offered to seek a prison sentence of no more than 12 months.
The plea settles his part of a criminal case that also alleges that his brother, former Democratic state Sen. Ron Calderon, accepted bribes, according to a court filing released Monday by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Accompanied only by his attorney, Tom Calderon, a Montebello resident, stood before U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder in a nearly empty courtroom. His brother, Ron, who was the main target of the FBI sting operation and still faces a slew of bribery and laundering charges, left the courtroom as soon as his business before Snyder was done.
Calderon spoke clearly and without hesitation as Snyder reviewed the terms of the plea deal with him and peppered him with questions to ensure he understood the implications of his decision to plead guilty.
Outside the courtroom, Ron Calderon’s attorney Mark Geragos, was critical of the plea agreement, calling it a “sweetheart deal” that was meant to put pressure on his client. Tom Calderon is not required to testify against his brother under the terms of the agreement. It is uncertain whether prosecutors will be permitted to tell a jury in Ron Caldon’s trial about the guilty plea.
Geragos said a plea agreement for Ron Calderon was not being discussed and expected the case would proceed to trial.
Tom Calderon recently underwent heart surgery that forced a delay in his trial. He admits in the plea bargain that he and his brother, Ron Calderon, hid bribe money through laundering to his company.
Prosecutors agreed to drop six charges against Tom Calderon as part of the agreement.
In accepting Calderon’s guilty plea, Snyder emphasized that she is not beholden to the terms of the deal he struck with the government. While the maximum punishment for a count of money laundering is 20 years’ imprisonment and $500,000 in fines, sentencing guidelines make it far more likely that Snyder would increase the sentence for Calderon by a matter of months instead of years — if she decides to depart from the plea agreement at all.
The plea agreement was signed Monday by Tom Calderon and his attorney, Shepard Kopp.
“I have nothing to say,” Tom Calderon said when reached at home Monday. Kopp declined comment.
Ron and Tom Calderon were indicted by a federal grand jury in February 2014. Ron Calderon was charged with 24 felony counts that include accepting $88,000 in bribes in exchange for official actions. He has pleaded not guilty and there is no plea agreement in his case, officials said Monday.
The former state senator is accused of accepting bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film industry executive in exchange for advocating for an extension of tax credits for film productions. Investigators also allege he took bribes from the owner of a medical firm in exchange for action on legislation involving workers’ compensation.
The plea agreement says that Tom Calderon admits that he founded a political consulting company, Calderon Group Inc., and also became an executive officer of Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit group.
“In or around April 2013, defendant and his brother Ronald S. Calderon agreed to conceal the fact that Ronald S. Calderon was receiving bribe money from” undercover FBI agents,” the agreement alleges, adding that Tom Calderon “agreed to allow bribe money to be funneled through the Calderon Group in order to conceal and disguise the fact that the money represented the proceeds of bribery.”
The agreement mentioned that Ron Calderon allegedly directed an undercover FBI agent to make a $30,000 payment to the Calderon Group on April 16, 2013.
The plea agreement signed by Tom Calderon on Monday says he understands that he “willfully caused to be conducted a financial transaction involving property that represented the proceeds of bribery,” and that he knew that the transaction was “designed to conceal” the source of the bribery proceeds.