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California senator targeted in probe stripped of committee assignments

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif (Reuters) - A California state senator who is the target of an FBI corruption probe was temporarily stripped of his committee assignments on Tuesday at the request of the body's top Democratic leader, pending the outcome of a federal investigation.

The senator at the focus of the probe, Democrat Ron Calderon of the Los Angeles suburb of Montebello, is accused of taking $60,000 in bribes from an undercover agent posing as a movie producer, according to an FBI affidavit posted online last month by Al Jazeera America.

The allegations prompted Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to call for Calderon's ouster from several committees, and the Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to remove him. But at the request of the U.S. attorney handling the case the committee stopped short of ordering an ethics investigation.

Calderon, who represents the Los Angeles suburb of Montebello and chaired the Senate's Insurance Committee, has not been indicted or charged with any crime, and has denied any wrongdoing.

Last spring, Calderon's offices were searched by the FBI. A law enforcement source who declined to be named has confirmed to Reuters that a probe was under way, and did not dispute the authenticity of the document posted by Al Jazeera.

On Tuesday, an attorney working with the state told the Rules Committee that he had spoken several times with the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles, and that the investigation was at a sensitive point.

Calderon, who has mostly refrained from commenting publicly about the case, said on Tuesday he was "profoundly disappointed" by the decision to remove him from his assignments.

"Removing me from my committee assignments sends a risky and unsuitable message regarding our fundamental constitutional rights and the presumption of innocence," Calderon said in a statement emailed to Reuters, calling the allegations against him false.

"I have not been charged or convicted with any unjust doing, yet I am being treated by this committee and some media outlets as if I had," the senator said. "The appropriate action to take would be to allow me to continue the work I was elected to do and to allow me to remain on my committee assignments."

Senate leader Steinberg said the move would be temporary, pending the results of the federal probe. If Calderon is cleared, he could resume his assignments immediately, Steinberg said.

Calderon also chaired the Senate Select Committee on California's Film and Television Industry, which was disbanded altogether on Tuesday at Steinberg's request.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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