Kim Baldonado, Kristopher Li
State Sen. Ron Calderon pleads not guilty at his post-indictment arraignment on Monday. The state senator faces political corruption charges including allegations he took more than $100,000 in cash bribes in addition to plane trips and dinners in exchange for supporting legislation. Kim Baldonado reports from downtown Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday Feb. 24, 2014.
Embattled California State Sen. Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty Monday after he was charged last week with a long list of federal bribery and corruption allegations.
The 56-year-old Montebello Democrat was traveling when the 24-count indictment was announced on Friday, and FBI officials said he agreed to surrender when he returned.
Prosecutors said Calderon accepted about $100,000 in cash bribes, chartered plane trips, high-end golf trips and gourmet meals. Calderon allegedly accepted these bribes in exchange for supporting or opposing legislation.
Wearing handcuffs and shackles, Calderon pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Monday and was set to be released upon releasing his passport and his wife signing a $50,000 surety bond. A trial date was set for April 22.
Tom Calderon, the state lawmaker’s brother, also faces charges in connection with the alleged scheme.
“The charges allege that the defendants traded influence for cash, and used kickbacks and other tactics to keep the system working in their favor,” said Bill Lewis, FBI assistant director in charge.
The indictment charges Ron Calderon with mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.
Ron Calderon is also accused of paying his daughter $39,000 for a bogus office job and paying around $30,000 for his son’s schooling.
Tom Calderon faces a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering for allegedly funneling bribe money through a non-profit group and consulting company he operates, prosecutors said.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday afternoon.
Prosecutors said Ron Calderon accepted $28,000 in bribes from Michael D. Drobot, former owner of the now-closed Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, in exchange for supporting legislation that “delay or limit changes in California’s workers’ compensation laws relating to the amount of medical care providers are reimbursed for performing spinal surgeries.”
Drobot has agreed to plead guilty regarding a major health care fraud scheme in another case announced by the U.S. Attorney’s office Friday.
The charges against the hospital executive involve tens of millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks in exchange for a huge number of patient referrals who received spinal surgeries. The referrals led to more than $500 million in bills, which were fraudulently submitted and, in large part, paid by the California worker’s compensation system, prosecutors said.
Law-enforcement sources described the allegations as what could be one of the largest health care fraud cases in state history.
Drobot is suspected of having had a heavy hand for some 15 years in the alleged kick-back scheme, which exploited the spinal pass-through law, which Ron Calderon allegedly kept on the books after receiving bribes from Drobot, authorities said.
Drobot was not indicted in the Calderons’ corruption case, but admitted to paying bribes to the senator, the FBI said. He is scheduled to be arraigned March 31.
As part of a plea agreement, Drobot has agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation of the health care fraud scheme, as well as the government’s prosecution of the Calderon brothers.
In addition to accepting bribes from Drobot, Ron Calderon allegedly also accepted $60,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio head, authorities said.
The lawmaker’s attorney, Mark Geragos, called the allegations in the affidavit “false and defamatory,” and Ron Calderon alleged that his office was raided in 2013 after he refused to “secretly record conversations with Senator [Darrell] Steinberg and Senator [Kevin] de Leon.”
If convicted, Ron Calderon faces up to 396 years in prison. Tom Calderon faces up to 160 years behind bars.
NBC News' Andrew Blankstein and NBC4's Sean Fitz-Gerald contributed to this report.