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Ex-state Sen. Ron Calderon to plead guilty, prosecutors say

Former California state Senator Ron Calderon is seen in this file photo. Prosecutors say that in a plea agreement filed Monday, Calderon admits accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for official acts as a legislator. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Former California Sen. Ron Calderon agreed to plead guilty Monday to mail fraud as part of a plea agreement in which he admitted to accepting bribes in exchange for supporting certain legislation.

Calderon, 58, agreed to plead guilty to mail fraud through the deprivation of honest services, according to a plea agreement filed in federal Los Angeles court. Prosecutors dropped more than 20 other charges in exchange.

"I think that basically what the prosecutors said is, ‘How much do we actually need to get him a sentence that he deserves?'" Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson told KPCC. "I think they were being realistic.”

Calderon is expected to enter the plea in court as early as Monday. He faces up to 20 years in prison at his yet-to-be-scheduled sentencing, though prosecutors said they would ask that he get no more than six years.

Calderon had been set for trial next month.

"A trial is a long protracted affair. It’s expensive, and don’t forget what the parade of witness would look like in this case. We’d frankly have the state Legislature, the state Senate going up on the stand, testifying about what would be really terrible deeds going on, and I think people are worried about knocking down even more of the confidence the public has in our state Legislature," Levenson said.

His attorney, Mark Geragos, didn't immediately return a call for comment Monday.

Geragos previously told The Associated Press that the government's plea agreement last week with Calderon's brother, former state Assemblyman Thomas Calderon, was an obvious effort to pressure his brother to do the same.

"Unfortunately this is the way the U.S. system of justice works," Geragos said. "You are facing enormous consequences in terms of sentencing guidelines and the government makes you an offer that you can't refuse, so you will sing from their script in order to get your head out of the noose."

Thomas Calderon, 62, pleaded guilty last week to a federal money laundering charge for allowing bribe money earmarked for his brother to be funneled through his firm.

The back-to-back plea agreements will settle the high-profile case that was filed in 2014.

"Public officials who engage in corrupt behavior threaten the basic fabric of our democracy," U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in a statement. "The Calderons have acknowledged their roles in a bribery scheme in which money for them and their families alone was driving legislation that would have benefited only a few individuals."

Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at Cal State LA, has been following the Calderon brothers's cases.

He said avoiding trial is a win for Ron Calderon.

“It’s a big break for him based on what he could have served,” he said. 

Nonetheless, Regalado said outcomes like those for Calderon help somewhat to restore public trust in the system.

"I’m pretty sure that none of the other state lagislators will say, ‘Oh, I might as well do this, because the worst that happens is that I face 20 years in prison instead of 200,'" Levenson said.

If convicted as expected, Calderon would be banned from holding public office.

“I think this will highlight what can be done when the government is vigilant against other units and other components of the government in the public interest. But I think many still feel that again this goes on, you know, far too often,” Regaldo said. 

According to Calderon's plea agreement, he agreed to support legislation that the government says helped a hospital owner maintain a long-running and massive health-care fraud scheme. The law was repealed in 2013, and the hospital owner was prosecuted separately.

In exchange, the hospital owner paid $30,000 to Calderon's son for three summers of work, according to the plea agreement.

Calderon also acknowledged taking money from an undercover FBI agent who posed as the owner of a Los Angeles movie studio and sought Calderon's help promoting an unsuccessful bill that would have expanded tax credits for the film industry.

In exchange for supporting the bill, Calderon accepted $12,000 worth of trips to Las Vegas and a $25,000 payment to a bank account belonging to his brother's consulting company, according to the plea agreement.

The undercover agent also paid Calderon's daughter $3,000 a month for work she didn't do and a $5,000 payment toward his son's college tuition, the plea agreement said.

"My office will not tolerate pay-to-play corruption by public officials and their associates," Deirdre Fike, chief of the FBI's Los Angeles field office, said in a statement. "While in office, Ron Calderon and others profited handsomely when bribe money was accepted and laundered, and I'm gratified that he has chosen to take responsibility for his actions."

You can read the full plea agreement below:

Document: Ron Calderon plea agreement

This story has been updated.