LOS ANGELES (AP) - State Sen. Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that he accepted $100,000 in bribes in return for pushing legislation, charges that could send him to federal prison for years.
Calderon, a member of a powerful Democratic political dynasty, stood before U.S. District Judge Suzanne Segal with his handcuffed hands clasped in front of him and entered pleas to 24 counts involving various forms of fraud along with conspiracy, money laundering and aiding the filing of false tax returns.
His wife and daughter were in court for the brief hearing.
Calderon surrendered to authorities earlier Monday. He was expected to be released the same day on a $50,000 bond, surrendering his passport and agreeing to remain within the continental United States.
If convicted of all charges, the potential sentence could total nearly 400 years.
Trial was tentatively set for April but the prosecutor said it probably would be six months to a year before Calderon faces a jury because of the paperwork involved in the complex case.
“Today is just the first step in a long process to seek justice against a corrupt politician,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins said.
In the state Capitol, Calderon’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate agreed to give him until next Monday to resign or take an indefinite leave of absence. If he does not, they plan to suspend him from his duties as a legislator, but not expel him.
“Senator Calderon has been accused of very serious crimes, but he hasn’t been convicted of anything. And thus, expulsion would be premature,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Calderon was stripped of his legislative committee assignments in November. Steinberg said the charges against him represent serious violations of the chamber’s ethics rules.
Steinberg also said representatives from his office had been in touch with Calderon’s representatives.
“I am hopeful that we can work this out in a way that is best for the Senate and best for him, so we will see,” he said.
His lawyer, Mark Geragos, said outside court that Calderon will decide later whether he wants to remain on the job, depending on how much time he may need to work on his criminal case.