State Sen. Ron Calderon was arraigned in federal court Monday afternoon on charges that were outlined in an indictment announced last Friday by the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles. The public corruption charges include bribery and money laundering.
Calderon, handcuffed and shackled at the waist, pleaded not guilty. He will be released on a $50,000 bond, which was signed by his wife.
The trial date was set for April 22.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, who is leading Calderon's prosecution, said this is "the first step in a long process of seeking out justice for corrupt politicians." When the indictment was announced last Friday, federal officials said their investigation is continuing.
Meanwhile, Calderon's senate colleagues continued to consider his fate Monday afternoon in Sacramento. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Calderon would be given a week to resign or take a leave of absence before the senate moves ahead with a suspension vote.
No California state senator has been expelled from office since 1905.
Following the arraignment, Calderon's attorney, Mark Geragos, said his client "is in relatively good spirits, given the situation. It's obviously a very trying situation for him."
The indictment alleges that Calderon used his two children to launder bribery payments. They were not named in the indictment.
As for the state senate's desire that Calderon resign or take a leave of absence, Geragos said: "We are going to get the [case] discovery and then decide exactly how much of his time I'm going to need as his lawyer. And then we'll make decisions as to what he's going to do after that.
"He's got a great deal of concerns for his constituents."
Geragos said Calderon would prefer to continue to serve: "That's what he loves to do."
The 56-year-old Democrat from Montebello has served in the State Senate since 2006. He previously served in the State Assembly.
Geragos added that he "would caution everyone that there is still a presumption of innocence in this country. I would just ask everyone to take a deep breath before they start drawing conclusions."
The veteran criminal defense attorney also addressed the FBI affidavit that was leaked to the press last October. Geragos accused federal officials of leaking the affidavit to smear Calderon after he stopped cooperating with the FBI's investigation.
"What goes into affidavits, is generally uncorroborated hearsay," Geragos said.
"I can tell you in 31 years, I've never had a situation in federal court where a search warrant affidavit has been leaked."
Geragos filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the leaked document. The U.S. Attorney's office responded on Friday, the same day it announced its indictment against Calderon. Geragos said that timing is suspicious.
"I don't think that's a coincidence," Geragos said. "That's highly suggestive of what's exactly going on here, which is a bait-and-switch to get the media to ask these idiotic questions. The real question is, why is the government leaking affidavits to al-Jazeera?"
Asst. U.S. Atty Jenkins said the government views the charges against Calderon "as very serious."
Asked which of the two cases against Calderon is stronger — his alleged attempts to affect legislation regarding film tax credits or to protect a medical insurance fraud operation — Jenkins said: "We believe both cases are very strong."
"Certainly the fact that they coalesced, we think strengthens both cases."
Jenkins said the complicated case will likely be continued beyond its scheduled start date.
Calderon's brother, Tom, pleaded not guilty to money-laundering charges in a courtroom appearance on Friday.
Officials announced the Calderon brothers' indictment on federal corruption and money laundering charges Friday. Ron Calderon had been traveling at the time the charges were announced.
The senator was the subject of a year-long corruption investigation. The FBI raided the lawmaker's Sacramento offices in June last year as part of the investigation.
The charges announced Friday include mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles.
On Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called for Sen. Ron Calderon's resignation.
"Given the seriousness of charges that strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official, Senator Calderon’s continued service is a cloud over all the important work that we must get done this year," Steinberg said. "It is in the best interests of the people and the Senate if he resigns. I call on him to do so."
Michael Drobot, former owner of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach alleged to have paid bribes to the Senator, has agreed to plead guilty, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
This story has been updated.