Steinberg denies Calderon claim he was targeted by FBI

lrosenhall@sacbee.comNovember 14, 2013 

The Senate Rules Committee, led by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, center, voted unanimously to strip Sen. Ron Calderon of all committee assignments on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.

RANDY PENCH — rpench@sacbee.com

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg on Thursday rejected a fellow senator’s claim that he is the target of an FBI corruption investigation and said allegations in Sen. Ron Calderon’s most recent court filing are “beyond the pale.”

“I am not a target of this investigation, I am not a subject of this investigation,” Steinberg said in a talk with reporters outside the Capitol.

Calderon, D-Montebello, filed a motion late Wednesday asking the federal court to hold the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles in contempt, contending they leaked an affidavit that alleges he accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a Long Beach hospital executive.

In the filing, Calderon says the FBI asked him to wear a wire and secretly record conversations with Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is Senate president pro tem, and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.

“The FBI was specifically interested in Senator Steinberg’s financial activities with Michael Drobot, the former chief executive officer of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach,” the filing in federal court says.

Steinberg said Thursday that he has “no relationship with Michael Drobot,” but that the former hospital executive had attended Senate Democrat fundraising events, including making a $50,000 contribution to attend the golf tournament known as the Pro Tem Cup in 2011 and giving $60,000 to attend the same event in 2012. Campaign finance reports show that Drobot and his various companies have given more than $1.3 million in campaign contributions since 2000, nearly all of it to Democrats and the Democratic Party.

Steinberg also said that a few years ago he met with Drobot and Calderon’s brother, Tom Calderon, who was a consultant for Pacific Hospital of Long Beach. The hospital specializes in doing spinal surgery on patients being treated through the state’s workers’ compensation system. How much hospitals are paid for performing those surgeries has been a significant source of turmoil in the Legislature, with dueling bills being introduced last year.

“When it came to what (Drobot) said that he wanted in terms of changes in the workers’ comp system, everything that I’ve done, everything that I did, was exactly the opposite,” Steinberg said.

“I spoke to him on one occasion, heard him out, and directly rejected his request and did just the opposite.”

At the end of last year’s legislative session, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 863 by de León, which removes a double payment hospitals had been receiving for performing spinal implants on workers’ comp patients. Prosecutors recently sent de León’s lawyer a letter saying he is a witness, not a target, of their investigation “based on the information we have obtained to date.”

De León issued a statement Thursday: “The U.S. Attorney’s Office asked me to assist their investigation as a witness and I have done so per the letter released from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which also made clear that I am neither a subject or target of the investigation. There is nothing more important than protecting the integrity of our governing processes.”

The workers’ compensation legislation is an area of interest to the FBI, according to the FBI’s sealed affidavit made public last month by Al Jazeera America. The document alleges that Calderon took $28,000 in bribes from Drobot in exchange for efforts to make workers’ compensation legislation more favorable to Drobot’s business. The FBI searched Pacific Hospital of Long Beach in April and raided Calderon’s Capitol offices in June.

No charges have been filed against Calderon. Drobot’s attorney, Jeffrey Rutherford, said his client has not broken the law.

James Wedick, a former FBI agent who was involved in a major political corruption conviction in the state Capitol in the 1980s, said agents may have asked Calderon to record conversations with Steinberg to prove statements he made to undercover agents during the course of their investigation. The affidavit describes Calderon telling an undercover agent that he has a strong relationship with Steinberg, which Calderon said would help him deliver legislation the agent was bribing him for.

“I helped him, he helped me,” Calderon said of Steinberg in a recorded conversation with an undercover FBI agent, according to the affidavit.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall. Jeremy B. White of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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