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Indicted California Sheriff Resigns to Fight Federal Corruption Charges

Orange County, California Sheriff Michael Carona, 52, resigned his post on January 14, 2008 to fight corruption charges. As a result of his leaving office he became eligible to receive pro bono legal assistance from a Los Angeles-based law firm – a potentially multimillion dollar benefit he was unable to accept while a public employee.

Carona, a thirty-two year veteran law enforcement officer in his third term as Orange County Sheriff, was indicted on October 30, 2007 by a federal grand jury on seven counts of conspiracy, witness tampering and mail fraud. The felony charges relate to his 1998 election campaign, in which he allegedly accepted $350,000 in gifts, loans and compensation in exchange for political favors and cronyism.

Carona’s wife, Debra, and his alleged mistress, attorney Debra Victoria Hoffman, face related charges. Carona had appointed his wife to the Orange County Fair Board of Directors, and had appointed Hoffman, who is accused of covering-up bribes, to the State Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention and the California Council on Criminal Justice.

Two of Carona’s former associates, Assistant Sheriffs Don Haidl and George Jaramillo, have agreed to testify against him.

Haidl, who solicited donations for Carona’s election campaign and gave him lavish gifts – including a Lake Tahoe va-cation and a boat – was hired as an Assistant Sheriff even though he had no prior experience in law enforcement. When Haidl’s teenage son, Gregory, was arrested in connection with a gang rape, Carona attempted to influence the DA’s office to charge him as a juvenile instead of an adult.

Carona is also accused of trying to get Haidl to lie to the grand jury. Haidl was cooperating with prosecutors and wore a recording device when he spoke with Carona about the pending federal charges.

Former Assistant Sheriff Jaramillo admitted he had accepted money and gifts valued at $45,000, including payments from shell companies organized by Haidl, and had filed fraudulent income tax returns. In 2007 he began serving a 12-month jail term on state charges of lying to a grand jury and misusing a county helicopter.

Initially, Carona announced he would take 60 days paid leave from the Sheriff’s office to defend himself against the federal charges. After one week he returned, claiming he could not afford the large legal tab, and made “the difficult choice” between resigning as Sheriff and obtaining free legal representation. Despite his pending criminal charges, Carona’s annual pension will equal his Sheriff’s salary of $199,680. He is scheduled to go to trial on August 26, 2008; in May, the federal judge over his case denied a defense motion to move the trial outside the county.

The Orange County Sheriff’s office has continued to be a source of controversy since Carona stepped down. A scath-ing grand jury report released in April 2008 cited numerous serious problems; the report found a Sheriff’s deputy at the Theo Lacy Jail was watching TV (specifically “Cops”) when prisoners beat another prisoner to death in Oct. 2006. The grand jury claimed rampant abuses by other deputies – including sleeping on duty, failing to make patrols of the jail, and using prisoners as “shot callers.” Several staff members were fired or suspended; the undersheriff resigned shortly before the report was released.

Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson asked the FBI to assist with an investigation into the report’s allegations of misconduct. The investigation is pending. Initial reforms by Anderson include removing TVs from guard stations, banning the use of personal cell phones by jail staff, and installing surveillance video cameras.

“This is not a good day for Orange County,” observed Supervisor John Moorlach. “We have another clear case of human failure. The complacency’s gotta stop. Good cops can’t protect bad cops. The code of silence has gotta stop.”

Apparently fed up with local corruption and malfeasance, on June 10, 2008 the Orange County Board of Supervisors named an outsider to replace Carona as Sheriff – Sandra Hutchens, a retired chief from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Sources: Los Angeles Times,, Orange County Register

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