tv The Stream Al Jazeera October 31, 2013 7:30pm-8:01pm EDT
♪ hi, i'm lisa fletcher, and you are in the stream. a bogus hollywood exec, lures state legislators with everything from fine dining to a fake twitter file. what is next after an undercover sting reveals the corruption. our team broke the story, and they are here to tell you about it. ♪ >> the al jazeera exclusive investigation broke on an fbi string involving ron calderon, the california state senator
from a political family wielding 30 years of influence. take a look. >> reporter: los angeles, the city where fame and infamy go hand in hand. >> tax credits work. >> reporter: here everything seems larger than life. including its politicians. that is ron calderon. he is the target of an ongoing federal investigation. according to a sealed affidavit obtained exclusively by al jazeera's investigative unit, the senator is for sale. a politician willing to influence legislation in exchange for money. as part of an elaborate undercover sting, fbi agents posed as owners of a film studio. >> they had to establish bank accounts. they needed a business license, and so it's a very extensive
lengththy operation. >> reporter: the senator allegedly wanted his family added to the payroll. he told undercover agents, any help you can do for which kids that's diamonds for me. at the world famous pebble beach resort, he attended a fund raiser. the greens were lined with some of the state's most influential lobbyist. despite an ongoing federal probe, calderon is still rubbing elbows and raising money. he has declined to comment to we caught up with him as he was arriving at another five-star resort. >> excuse me, center calderon. josh from al jazeera. >> how are you? >> good. we're here to ask you some
questions about your legal problems? >> i'm not here to discuss that. >> reporter: in the end he may be best remembered for falling hard for an elaborate undercover sting. >> since that story aired details has emerges, speaking of which, omar al saleh is here. >> huge buzz and huge cynicism. we have james who says . . .. so clearly people are actually very [ inaudible ] to the american political system. for those of you at home we want to hear from you, so be sure to tweet us using the hashtag you see on your screen right now.
>> joining me are two people who have been on this story since the beginning. also in our google hangout tonight is an orange county based writer, and kathy fang she is executive director of a california political watchdog group. we did reach out to senator calderon who denied requests to join our show tonight. so what is new? >> a lot is new and a lot has happened in a very short amount. the investigation centered on an fbi sting in which they posed as film executives. ron calderon sits on the california film commission which oversees those tax subsidies, and the senator pro-tem announced he was stripping him
of his position on the california film commission. which was a huge fast move. >> and in terms of other media, there have been so many people that have long suspected particularly in california that something has been up, and they have been fiddling around the story, but hasn't been able to wrap their arms around it. your team did. >> right. a lot of media pointed to a connection to ron and his brother thomas, believing that was the center of the investigation. no one realized the sting was as elaborate as it was. that they cut these so-called executive in touch with calderon. and what the fbi affidavit alleges is that he sponsored legislation specifically to
their benefit. >> if you take a look at my screen, autumn asks -- she is trying to wrap her head around why this is relevant. josh you are want to take a stab at that. >> the film commission overseas the $100 million in tax credits. and in california what that means is that an independent film that has a budget of 1 to $10 million can qualify for a lucrative tax credit, and this commission overseas that. you have to apply, fill out documents and everything, and then you get entered into a pool. and the allegation is that ron calderon was approached by these undercover fbi agents that were posing as movie executives who wanted that budget threshold lowered to $500,000. calderon was allegedly willing
to put forward legislation that would make that happen in exchange for bribes. >> trevor i feel like we're going to hear people calling entrapment on this one. >> i'm sure if he goes to trial and is charged -- i think it's important to note that he has not yet been charged for the crime. but they need to prove he committed a crime that he could not have otherwise committed on his own. that the fbi made possible a crime that otherwise wouldn't have been possible. they also go into great detail about a local hospital. the pacific hospital of long beach, in which the chief executive was very busy doing spinal surgery. he overbilled the state for tens of millions of dollars. the fbi affidavit aledges that
calderon received payments, and they helped prevent a bill from going forward that would have closed a loophole that would have allowed him to make millions of dollars, and this shows that it happens outside of the sting. that he was doing this activity independent of the sting operation and the fbi didn't make possible a crime -- >> so they are trying to show pattern of practice? >> that's right. they need to show that he did this in the past before the sting began. >> we have a question from somebody who is not from the united states. adriana do you mind setting the context? >> sure. anyway -- you guys probably i
think sort of stated in your story. he is one of the calderon brothers. they are a family that have managed to be in california politics for 30 years. ron has been in the state senate -- i want to say he was elected in 2006. and in terms of importance, california is often considered one of the largest economies in the world. i think we're usually fifth of six largest in the world. so there's a lot of money in the state. a state senator sits in the upper house of the legislature. so, you know, there's quite a bit of influence, and just something to note is the region he represents i want to state's california senate district 30 is kind of known as the corruption corridor in southeast l.a., so you have cities like bell, which is infamous for corruption, huntington park, all of those cities have all been embroiled
in corruption scandals in recent years. >> josh based on your sources and what you learned as your investigation evolved, did it seem apparent that this was an isolated incident, or that this may be more pervasive in the state legislature. >> from reading the affidavit and talking to the former head of the corruption desk in sacramento for more than 30 counties, it appears they were looking to broaden their investigation. that they were looking to look at ron calderon's connections, who he was communicating with to see if there were other criminal activity taking place. i just got my hands on a statement from the department of justice out of los angeles, and we're just finding out now that the fbi can confirm that they have referred the matter of the affidavit being released publicly to the appropriate authorities at the department of justice for investigation and
they are saying there won't be any further comment. we have been asking the fbi if this case has been referred to prosecution, and obviously a lot of new developments taking place right now. >> that's great. we have trevor locked in on the set. josh we know we're going to let you go at this point -- you have something that i'm sure you can't tell us about that you have to do, but thanks for popping in on the show tonight. >> thanks for having me. >> the affidavit reads like a who's who in california politics, and undoubtedly it will have implications with constituents. what do you think the effects will be? tweet us during the break. we'll be right back. ♪
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>> taking a page out of "argo," an fbi sting has put the spotlight on california legislation. it focused on a power. latino lawmaker. the senate president and the chair of the latino legislative caucus appear in the affidavit, and while nobody has been charged with anything, what do you think the implications could be here? >> i think it -- you know, what you are going to see is probably some people within that caucus trying to distance themselves from the calderons, and i think what you are also going to see is some people in the grassroots trying to -- trying to make a move and -- and maybe possibly unseat -- unseat this political family, but i think when more information about this comes
out, the public will become more informed. you might see more people who will want to become more engaged. and it's something we have seen already in this region. we have seen it in the city of bell, and also in south gate which is also in that region. so that could come out of this. >> trevor we have actually a question from our editor asking about the investigation . . . can you talk a little bit more about -- >> sure. it's hard to know. the process in an fbi investigation like this is the fbi conducts a sting operation in consultation with the department of justice and the u.s. attorney's office, and when it gets to the end, they refer it to the prosecutors to make the final decision. are we going to indict this person? we have asked the fbi several times if they have referred it for prosecution, and they have
reclined so far. one reason might be in june they raid his office and went through his files and that may have brought them down avenues that they need more time to investigate. it could be -- [ technical difficulties ] -- >> all of that is clearly speculation but that is the kind of things that can cause delay. the affidavit lays out a very, very strong case. >> kathy based son the appearance alone of things right now, what do you think is going to happen in terms of legislation that calderon has signed on to or pushed? >> well, it's clear that there are a lot of people in the legislature who are watching this very, very closely, and as the speaker before just said, in fact actually there has already been some power struggles within the legislature, regarding the calderons. there are call derons at
multiple levels of the legislation. the speaker wanted legislation that would have reigned number some of the corruption, and it was calderon and others who blocked that legislation. so there is ongoing struggle and i also i think potential split over this issue, and i agree a lot of people will be distancing themselves. and when it comes to the legislation, i think a lot of legislators will look at that and decide based on the merits let's hope, and there may be other authors of the legislation if it turns out something that leads to inindictment. >> we have a video comment here from ron from california. take a listen.
>> these are very serious charges in the four years they was state republican chairman in california it became clear to me that the democrats have the rules exactly as they want them. and it makes it too easy for teleelected officials to become corrupted. the people of california should demand wholesale reform of the rules that govern the legislature. >> what kind of backlash do you expect to see from the community to ron calderon. >> i think it depends on the extent that people become aware of it. but i wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't an effort to oust him. also people are going to start to look at the other calderon who is in the legislation right now, he is the nephew, and he is in the state assembly, so i
think that's going to happen. i think right now so much is just coming out we don't really know what the community is going to do yet, but i suspect as more information comes out, you are going to have some people rally around this and try to make some changes. >> when we come back, california east system of accountability inside the walls of the legislature. and how do you attack this on a national scale because corruption certainly isn't limited to just california. think about that while we share some other trending stories. ♪
we're back discussing dirty deals in politics. kathy as evidenced by all of the tweets and community comments that omar has been reading tonight, people really take all of this with so much scepticism. but specifically to you in california, do you think there are any reforms that can actually meaningfully reign any of this in? >> just this year there was legislation before the legislature to increase the disclosure from everything around political giving and behavior of lobbyists, and we need to turn to our lead ership and say if not now when? and our system in the united states is based on people going out and raising private
money from private individuals and corporations and unions, and what that creates is the real potential opportunity for those outside interests who have given large amounts of money to have a corrupting influence. they are going to seek access and have expectations and sometimes that turns into something that could be quid pro quo, and we want to look at that system of political giving and ask are there some other ways to do this. if we look at other countries, a lot of countries have public financing. i think that is a system that needs to go back on the table in california. it's time for us to act, shouldn't campaigns be publicly financed so we don't have candidates chasing private money and eventually feeling like they owe favors to people or encouraging that kind of exchange of favors, and in this
situation i don't know what -- what the calderons are or are not guilty of, but it certainly is a problem that is endemic to our political system. >> if i can just follow up on that with an comment . . . do you feel like the laws that exist already are actually sufficient on corruption sufficiently? >> i think the biggest problem is there are great laws, but they really don't have the funds or staff that they need to investigate this entire large state of 35 million people. and, you know, what has happened is that particularly at the local level there's a lot of opportunity for bad behavior to go unnoticed, and we have seen in recent years, particularly actually just in recent months, opportunities for for instance
water districts and local city councils to beef up their ethics investigation, and for the fcc to be more involved in investigations, and when doesn't rise to the level of the scandal that is now brewing around the calderons, the real question is who is going to enforce problems at the local level. and we don't have a robust system to do that. i think we need to invest our money where our mouth is if the legislature thinks this is a real issue. what they need to do is put money in for the fcc and improve at the local level. >> kathy has mentioned this idea in terms of reform people mobilizing and being active, but can you put this in context of the people that calderon serves. they could be considered a more
vulnerable population. >> okay. yeah. well, in that region, i would probably say, and i'm painting with a brood brush here, but this is largely characteristic of it, they are -- it's a largely working class community. so you have people who, you know, are working very hard to just get by. they might not have the time be as politically engaged or pay as much attention to their water boards, school boards, city council, so it's kind of a breeding grounds for this in some of those regions in california. >> and local officials have counted on low voter turnout, and they have played with the election rules to try to depress voter turnout so that in some elections we're talking about a couple hundred people determining the outcome of the election, and when you are a local official and you know
nobody is watching you, and you can count on a very low turnout election to determine who gets elected, you really almost have a cart blanche to behave in a way that there is very little oversight on. the people aren't participating in the election and there isn't an outside watchdog agency investigating. so in this situation it is an unusual situation where the fbi at the federal level has put together a sting operation to look deep into what the family may be involved in. >> part of what turns many in our community off of politics is the influence of money . . . and then we also have this video coming from amy. take a listen. >> this is amy from california. i think that calderon scandal is
just the tip of the iceberg, and we're going to see a lot of issues next year with candidates and their super pacs. this investigation, i think is definitely needing to go further into how candidates are given their funds from their super pacs or how things are spent for them and their families. >> trevor so clearly obviously the problem of super pacs and all of that stuff does not allow for the type of bribery allegations we're dealing with in that case, but the fact that our political system allows for this kind of thing to happen, does that feed a culture where politicians take the problem of money coming into politics in a way less seriously. >> you see in the calderon case he was raising money in very legal ways. it was within the legal framework.
the problem was he went over that line where he established a quid pro quo relationship according to the affidavit. and in a case like this, that really undermines our confidence that government can work in a way where there is corruption. this has such an enormous impact on our confidence in the government. >> trevor thank for sharing your investigation with us. amazing job. thank you to our guests and to our community for your comments and thoughts, and until our next show, we'll see you online. ♪
good evening, everyone. welcome to al jazeera america. i'm john siegenthaler in new york. less to eat. millions of americans facing deep cuts to the nation's food stamp program. the challenge, getting rid of syria's chemical weapons, while millions are starving in the middle of the civil war. concussion concerns the technology helping football's youngest players facing potential long-term problems. power on, the faa changes its mind about your electronic devices. plus. that's about 45 pounds of fall shanook salmon.