SACRAMENTO -- A state Senate committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to remove a Los Angeles area lawmaker from his committee assignments following accusations that he took lucrative bribes.
Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, is alleged to have accepted tens of thousands of dollars from an undercover FBI agent leading a sting operation against the longtime legislator and his relatives, according to a sealed FBI affidavit obtained last month by Al-Jazeera America.
Citing a duty to protect the Legislature's integrity, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg urged his colleagues on the Rules Committee to remove Calderon from 10 standing and select committees.
"I don't make this request lightly, but the allegations are serious enough to potentially cloud any interactions the senator has with the public or other committee members," Steinberg said.
Being stripped of his committee assignments prevents Calderon from having a say on bills before they are voted on by the full Senate and Assembly.
Calderon called the committee's vote "profoundly disappointing" and said his commitment to representing his constituents remains firm. Though the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles is building a case against him, Calderon has not been charged with a crime.
"Removing me from my committee assignments sends a risky and unsuitable message regarding our fundamental constitutional rights and the presumption of innocence," Calderon said. "I have not been charged or convicted with any unjust doing, yet I am being treated by this committee and some media outlets as if I had."
Calderon got more bad news, shortly after the Rules Committee hearing ended.
The California Latino Legislative Caucus announced it plans to remove the disgraced lawmaker from its executive board to eliminate distractions that could impede the group's progress, according to a statement released by Caucus Chairman Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.
"We take these grave allegations seriously. While we make no judgments as to the veracity, we have a duty to protect the integrity of a distinguished caucus," said Lara, who also sits on the Senate Rules Committee.
Calderon and his brothers Charles and Thomas have been prominent members of the caucus for the past two decades. Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, Ron Calderon's nephew, is also a member of the caucus.
A dozen current and former members of the caucus from Northern California districts declined to comment on allegations that Calderon accepted bribes in exchange for his support of legislation to expand the film industry's access to tax credits.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, has been the only lawmaker to call for Calderon's resignation. She represents Calderon's hometown and beat his brother, former Assemblyman Thomas Calderon, in a primary election last year.
Larry Gerston, a political-science professor at San Jose State University, said it's not surprising that so few lawmakers have spoken publicly against Calderon because he has not been indicted.
"Yes, the FBI raided his office, and yes, there have been grand jury hearings, and yes, that long affidavit was released, but there's a difference between speculation and the formality of charges," Gerston said.
"It behooves these lawmakers to be cautious," he said. "In the past, we've had investigations and no charges, or worse, charges that turn out to be unfounded."
Steinberg was poised to call on the Senate Ethics Committee to open an internal investigation into political corruption allegations against Calderon, but he held off, following the advice of an attorney retained by the state Senate.
That attorney, Bill Portanova, testified briefly at Tuesday's hearing and said a separate probe of Calderon's affairs could hinder the federal case the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles is building.
Calderon ¿headed the Senate Insurance Committee and select committees on international business and trade, economic development, and film and television, among his other committee assignments.
The Senate Rules Committee also voted to disband the Select Committee on Film and Television, which Calderon headed. Its work was discussed at length in the FBI affidavit.