A subpoena from federal prosecutors has been served at the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which has come under scrutiny amid an FBI probe of state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello).
Law enforcement sources confirmed issuing the subpoena, which one source said included requests for records that include documents related to contracts awarded by the water district, invoices, purchase orders, voice mails and information related to how officials there accepted or rejected bids. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
The subpoena requested numerous documents. The request included records involving the senator’s brother, Tom Calderon, and the Calderon Group Inc., former Bell City Councilman George Cole and the organization he once ran, the Oldtimers Foundation. Oldtimers had received more than $2.5 million in contracts from Central Basin in the past. The request also sought records on Gil Cedillo Jr., an employee at the water district and the son of former legislator and newly elected L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo.
Cole, who could not be reached for comment, once served on the water district’s elected board of directors, and Tom Calderon had served until recently as the Oldtimers’ board president. Gil Cedillo Jr. could not be reached for comment.
It’s unclear whether the subpoena is directly related to the FBI’s investigation of the senator, but two local city officials and a utility contractor told The Times last week that the FBI interviewed them about legislation written by Ron Calderon and about water district consulting contracts held by the lawmaker’s brother Tom.
Until a change in leadership at Central Basin after an election last year, Tom Calderon had a $12,000-a-month consulting contract with the water district. Through 2011, the district had paid him more than $750,000 in consulting feels since 2004 for political and legislative advice. The Times wrote about the family's connections to the district and the Oldtimers contract in 2011.
Tom Calderon’s two brothers, the senator and Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), have in the past defended Central Basin’s interests in Sacramento by championing legislation supporting the district. In 2009, Sen. Calderon helped thwart an audit on Central Basin’s books. Central Basin board member Leticia Vasquez said the agency will “fully comply” with the U.S. attorney’s office request for records.
“Central Basin has cut off all business relationships with Tom Calderon,” said Vasquez, who took office in January after The Times' wrote several stories about problems involving the district. “I have no knowledge of the specifics of the subpoena, however the board has directed the attorneys to fully cooperate with the investigation.”
Joseph Legaspi, a spokesman for Central Basin, added: “We have been contacted by the authorities. At this time we can’t comment on the particulars, but we fully intend to cooperate.”
Federal officials have revealed little about their investigation into Sen. Calderon, but one source said they are looking into the Montebello lawmaker’s “income stream.” His ties to Central Basin in Southeast Los Angeles County appear to be part of the overall investigation.
An attorney for Calderon, Shepard Kopp, declined to comment about federal prosecutors’ subpoena of records at the agency. But he pointed to an investigation conducted last year by a law firm hired by Central Basin that cleared Calderon of any misconduct related to the awarding of a contract.
About a month later, that law firm, Buchalter Nemer, filed a highly unusual lawsuit alleging that unnamed authors of an email alleging wrongdoing in the awarding of the contract had libeled the public agency. Legal experts said the filing of the lawsuit was baffling because governments can’t be defamed.
The suit was in response to criticism of a $965,000 contract that was awarded to Water2Save, a company with which Tom Calderon held a consulting contract. The contract was never paid out, and soon an election changed the make-up of Central Basin’s five-member board.
Amid the controversy, two incumbents were ousted from their seats on the board of the Central Basin last June, and Tom Calderon lost in a primary contest for the 58th Assembly District. The district’s longtime general manager stepped down.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.