Orange County Sheriff will battle corruption charges
Associated Press Writer
SANTA ANA ” Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona was once seen as a rising star in state Republican politics and had been mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor.
But the head of the nation’s fifth largest sheriff’s department has been indicted on federal corruption charges and is now fighting to save his career and stay out of prison.
Carona was expected to turn himself over to authorities Wednesday at the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana ahead of an afternoon arraignment, U.S. attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek said. The three-term sheriff faces seven counts, including conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering, according to a sweeping indictment unsealed a day earlier.
Also charged were Carona’s wife of 27 years, Deborah, and attorney Debra Victoria Hoffman, identified in court papers as his “longtime mistress.”
Carona rejected the allegations and said he would not step down as the case moved forward.
“I have never misused the office of the sheriff of Orange County for financial gain,” Carona said in a prepared statement. “Any fair review of the evidence can only lead to that conclusion.
“And I am offended that similar accusations have been made about my wife, which are also patently false,” he said.
Hoffman does not have an attorney yet, Mrozek said. A call to her law office after business hours Tuesday was not immediately returned.
Two former assistant sheriffs, Donald Haidl and George Jaramillo, previously pleaded guilty to related charges as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Jaramillo, who is currently serving a 12-month term on state charges, cooperated with federal investigators to bring the case against Carona, his attorney said.
If convicted on all counts, Carona could face a maximum sentence of 105 years in prison, plus thousands of dollars in fines.
Carona and others allegedly accepted $350,000 in gifts and cash in exchange for political favors in a scheme that began as early as 1998, the year he was first elected, federal prosecutors allege.
According to prosecutors, the scheme began when Haidl solicited donations to Carona’s election campaign and then reimbursed donors to hide the money trail.
After Carona was elected, Haidl, a wealthy businessman, paid for a Lake Tahoe vacation for Carona and Jaramillo and their spouses, officials said.
He also gave Carona a boat and boat trailer valued at more than $5,000 in 2001 and the personal use of Haidl’s yacht and private plane, the indictment claims.
Additionally, Haidl made monthly $1,000 payments to Carona for “full access to sheriff’s department resources” and a “get out of jail free card” for friends and family members, authorities said.
Haidl also appointed Carona and Jaramillo to the board of directors of a company owned by Haidl’s uncle and gave a $110,000 loan to Carona’s girlfriend and
Jaramillo to help rescue their floundering law firm.
In return, the indictment alleges, Carona appointed Haidl to the position of assistant sheriff for reserves in 1999 and made Haidl’s family, friends and business associates reserve deputies.
Carona gained national attention during an investigation into the 2002 kidnapping and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. CNN’s Larry King called him “America’s Sheriff,” a nickname that appears on Carona’s official biography.
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