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California lawmaker takes leave of absence amid bribery charges

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California state senator said on Monday he would take a leave of absence, instead of resigning, while fighting federal charges that he accepted bribes from a businessman and from undercover FBI agents posing as film executives.

Democrat Ron Calderon, part of a decades-old California political dynasty, surrendered to authorities last week to face two dozen counts of bribery, fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

The 56-year-old politician was freed on $50,000 bond and ordered to return to court in March for pre-trial proceedings.

"This is not a resignation since I still have my day in court," Calderon said in a written statement.

"However, due to the nature and complexity of the charges, and the discovery materials that I will have to review, I expect this to be a lengthy period of absence continuing until the end of the session in August," he said.

A spokesman for Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said Calderon would receive his full salary while on leave, although he would not be eligible for the $163 per-diem paid to lawmakers for each day they are in session.

Calderon, who has been in the California Senate for 12 years and who had served four years in the state Assembly, is the second Democrat to take a leave of absence from the state Senate over legal troubles in the past week, costing the party its supermajority in both houses of the California legislature.

Roderick Wright took a leave of absence from the state Senate last week following his conviction on perjury and voter fraud charges.

Calderon is charged in federal grand jury indictment with taking some $100,000 in cash bribes, along with plane trips, golf outings and jobs for his children, in exchange for influencing legislation.

His brother, Tom Calderon, a former member of the California State Assembly, was also named in the indictment and charged with conspiracy and seven counts of money laundering.

Both men have pleaded not guilty and have denied the charges against them.

Prosecutors say Ron Calderon accepted bribes from Long Beach hospital owner Michael Drobot to preserve a legislative loophole that allowed Drobot to defraud the state's healthcare system out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Drobot has agreed to plead guilty to separate charges and is cooperating in the case, according to prosecutors.

Calderon is also accused of taking money from undercover FBI agents posing as executives from an independent Hollywood movie studio in exchange for supporting an expansion of film tax credits in California.

The two Calderons are accused of laundering the bribe money by funneling it through Tom Calderon's consulting firm, Californians for Diversity.

If convicted at trial, Ron Calderon could face a statutory maximum of nearly 400 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines typically call for much less time. Tom Calderon could face a maximum of 160 years behind bars.

The case will be heard in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Leslie Adler and Diane Craft)

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