A trio of Republican state senators failed in their recent effort to oust Democratic Sen. Roderick Wright, who was convicted last month of living outside the district he was elected to represent.
Wright, D-Inglewood, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the Senate while he awaits sentencing on five counts of voter fraud, two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy. He faces up to eight years and four months behind bars, with sentencing set for May 16.
Sens. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster; Joel Anderson, R-San Diego; and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, introduced a resolution calling for Wright to be expelled from the Legislature. The resolution cites state law that says “a person is disqualified from holding any office upon conviction of designated crimes as specified in the Constitution and laws of the state.”
On a largely party-line vote, the resolution was referred to the Senate Rules Committee, meaning the issue likely will not be taken up prior to Wright’s sentencing.
“This is a sad day for all Californians because the minority’s voice is being silenced on the Senate floor,” Anderson said.
The resolution noted that Wright has had the option of resigning but has not done so, and that “Senate leadership has had … the option of requesting Senator Wright to resign from the Senate but has not done so.”
Expelling a senator requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, met with Wright last week and agreed to his request for a leave of absence.
Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd told jurors during Wright’s trial that the senator used an Inglewood property as a “prop,” but actually lived in Baldwin Hills.
Wright’s attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, maintained that the senator had “followed the law,” telling jurors the lawmaker had “established domicile” at the Inglewood property where his stepmother was renting a unit.
While on leave, Wright will continue to collect his $95,291 annual salary but he will not receive the $163 per diem check for each day the Senate is in session. His staff will be able to continue handling constituent requests, according to Mark Hedlund, senate spokesman.
Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, announced this week he would also take a voluntary leave of absence from the Legislature while he defends himself from federal charges of accepting more than $100,000 in cash bribes, as well as plane trips and dinners, in exchange for supporting legislation.
The 56-year-old lawmaker cited the “nature and complexity” of the charges in announcing what he expects to be “a lengthy period of absence continuing until the end of the (legislative) session in August.”
“I will take this time to focus on fighting these charges,” Calderon said in a statement. “I do not want to distract from the important work of the Senate and my colleagues on serious issues affecting my constituents and the people of California.”
He emphasized that “This is not a resignation since I still have my day in court.”
Calderon pleaded not guilty last week to 24 counts of federal mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.
A federal magistrate judge ordered him to surrender his passport and allowed his release on a $50,000 bond, signed by his wife. A tentative trial date was set for April 22.
Calderon’s 59-year-old brother, Tom, has also pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering for allegedly funneling bribe money through a nonprofit group and consulting company he operates. He was freed on a $25,000 bond.
According to a grand jury indictment, Ron Calderon solicited and accepted benefits, such as employment for his son, trips on privately charted airplanes, golf at exclusive, high-end golf resorts and meals at expensive restaurants, from Michael D. Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.
The alleged bribes were offered in exchange for the senator’s support of legislation that would delay or limit changes in California’s workers’ compensation laws, according to the indictment.
Drobot, 69, of Corona del Mar, was charged in a separate case with running a healthcare fraud scheme that federal prosecutors said involved millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks in exchange for referrals of thousands of patients who underwent spinal surgeries. Those operations led to more than $500 million in bills being fraudulently submitted to the state workers’ compensation system, prosecutors said.
Drobot has agreed to plead guilty to two counts and faces up to 10 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ron Calderon is also alleged to have taken bribes from two undercover FBI agents posing as film producers in a separate scheme to affect legislation to extend film-industry tax credits. At one point in the investigation, prosecutors alleged, at least one cash bribe exchanged hands.
In that case, the senator is alleged to have solicited and accepted trips to Las Vegas, meals and employment for his daughter “with the understanding that such benefits were to influence” official acts in connection with the film tax credit. Prosecutors said Calderon agreed to support the film tax legislation in exchange for his daughter being paid $3,000 a month—a total of nearly $40,000—for a job in which she performed no work.
Calderon also allegedly solicited a $5,000 payment for his son’s college tuition and $25,000 for Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit political group run by Tom Calderon.
According to prosecutors, the Calderons funneled money through Californians for Diversity and Tom Calderon’s consulting firm, and some of the cash went to Ron Calderon and his daughter.
The Calderon brothers face multiple years in federal prison if convicted of all charges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ron Calderon was stripped of his Senate committee assignments as a result of the federal probe.