Politics, government and public life for Southern California

State Sen. Ron Calderon and his brother have ties to local water district (Updated)

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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

The Sacramento offices of state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, were searched by the FBI this week. The FBI would not disclose the reason for the investigation.

California state Sen. Ron Calderon, whose Sacramento offices were raided Tuesday by the FBI, has personal and legislative ties to the Central Basin Municipal Water District — a public agency that is also under federal scrutiny.
 
The former owner of a Southern California water conservation consulting firm says he was sought out twice this year by the FBI for information about the water district, which serves various cities in southeast L.A. County, including Calderon's base in Montebello.

In recent years, Calderon introduced a bill that would have benefited the district and argued against another piece of legislation that the agency opposed. 

All the while, the water district was paying consulting fees to Calderon's brother, former California state legislator Tom Calderon.

RELATED: Who's who in the investigation into State Sen. Ron Calderon

The water district reportedly paid Tom Calderon about $11,000 monthly until January of this year, when his contract was not renewed. A spokesman for the water district told KPCC Wednesday that federal authorities have not contacted the agency.

“To my knowledge we have not been contacted by the authorities,” said Joseph Legaspi, a spokesman for the water district.

UPDATED: Since 2008, both Calderons have made donations to various candidates running for the water district’s board of directors. Ron Calderon made contributions to three candidates totaling $6,000 from his own senate campaign fund.

Two recipients of Ron Calderon's campaign gifts, Art Chacon and Phillip Hawkins, remain on the water district board. 

In Tom Calderon’s case, two donations totaling $5,000 came from the campaign fund for his unsuccessful 2012 attempt to return to the Assembly, where he served from 1998-2002.

A third donation to a water board candidate, totaling $2,500, came from the Calderon Group — Tom Calderon's consulting firm, which at the time was under contract to the water district.

Tom Calderon is also the former president of a nonprofit that was awarded a contract from the water district last year. That organization, the Steelworkers Oldtimers Foundation, was founded by George Cole, the former mayor of Bell who was recently convicted on public corruption charges. Cole served on the water district board from 2003-2007. The foundation’s tax returns from 2008-2010 listed Tom Calderon as its president.

The water district's contract with the foundation was a subject of two interviews conducted by the FBI earlier this year with Michael Franchek, who owned the now-defunct EcoGreen Services.

Franchek told the FBI that, in October of 2009, a water district board committee recommended that EcoGreen be awarded a million-dollar contract for a job in Maywood. Two weeks later, the board decided instead to award the contract to the Steelworkers Oldtimers Foundation. Agendas from those two board meetings support Franchek's account.

“This was clearly a case of political cronyism,” Franchek told KPCC.

Tom Calderon also serves on the board of Water2Save, another group that has been awarded a contract from the water district. An attempt to reach Calderon at his home office Wednesday was unsuccessful.

In the 2009-10 legislative session, Ron Calderon introduced a bill saying it was "necessary to stop the subsidy of water replenishment" in the region by Central Basin Municipal Water District customers. The bill, which never got out of committee, was opposed by some of the water district's own municipal clients.

Last year, Calderon opposed a bill sponsored by then-state Sen. Alan Lowenthal that proposed to give authority to the the Lakewood-based Water Replenishment District to manage groundwater storage in the region. 

When the bill was debated in the Senate, Calderon argued: “What this legislation does is further fuel the flame of on-going water wars by usurping power from one water agency to another. It would provide this power to an agency that has been mired in financial [mis]management."

Lowenthal's bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Ron Calderon's attorney, Mark Geragos, has said his client has done nothing wrong.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles would comment on the investigation.

KPCC reporters Sharon McNary and Julie Small contributed to this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the Central Basin Municipal Water District awarded a contract to the Steelworkers Oldtimers Foundation in 2012. That occurred in 2009.

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