What Lies Below: FBI Deepens Its Water District Probe

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The hot water around state Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) is getting deeper.

The FBI's political corruption investigation continues to focus on the senator's ties to former assemblyman Tom Calderon -- Ron's brother -- and on Tom's dealings with the Central Basin Municipal Water District. But the FBI probe has deepened and widened in recent days, raising new questions about the district's contracting and hiring practices.

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New subpoenas have been issued for the personnel records of former district director Art Aguilar and current board members Art Chacon and Robert Apodaca. And more CBMWD contractors -- including one of the state's largest and most respected consulting firms -- have been ordered to turn over documents and digital files relating to their work for the district.

Investigators are scrutinizing the district's unsuccessful effort to wrest control of the basin's water storage capacity from another obscure water agency, as well as a controversial reclaimed water distribution system the district financed despite the objections of cities and water providers.

And suspicion has now been raised about the hiring (and abrupt firing) of Gil Cedillo Jr., the son of ex-state legislator and now L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo. Cedillo Jr. had worked for both Ron and Tom Calderon before being hired as the Central Basin's business development manager.

More troubling for Sacramento insiders, according to the Los Angeles Times, are the grand jury subpoenas that have been served on several state legislators aimed at clarifying what the FBI calls Senator Calderon's "income stream." The FBI declined to explain further, but the implication is that lush contracts with the CBMWD may have been brokered with a compliant district board, with some of the money channeled to the political campaigns of Calderon family members and to retaliatory campaigns against political opponents in Maywood and other cities.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times editorialized on the need for greater oversight in the operation of the region's water agencies, which have been criticized for their questionable accounting practices, poor oversight of contractors, and history of ethical abuses by elected board members.

Better oversight is needed, but it will take much more to unravel the ties of money, influence, and political intimidation that connect Senator Calderon, the CBMWD board, elected officials in other water districts, and small town city councils.

That, it seems, is the task of the FBI.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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