Monday, August 04, 2008

An Honest Sheriff is a Poor Sheriff.

There are bad doctors, lawyers, reporters, etc. and anytime someone does wrong it puts a black mark on all those in the same profession. Back in October of 2007 I read that a federal indictment has been unsealed charging Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona with conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering.

Ex-Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona

Like any modern scandal the case includes Money, Power, and of course Sex, lies and Video Tapes. The indictment also implicates his wife Debra, alleged mistress Debra Victoria Hoffman and former assistant sheriffs Donald Haidl and George Jaramillo. The Indictment contains the following allegations.

All five conspired to get Carona elected in 1998 so he could then use his position to enrich himself and his cohorts. Together, Carona and others took more than $350,000 in illegal contributions.

In 1998, businessman Haidl solicited donations to Carona's campaign from others and then reimbursed the donors to hide the money trail.

Haidl paid for a Lake Tahoe vacation for Carona, Jaramillo, himself and their spouses after Carona was elected.

In 1999, Carona appointed Haidl an assistant sheriff for reserves and made Haidl's family, friends and business associates reserve deputies.

In 2001, Haidl gave Carona a boat and boat trailer valued at more than $5,000, and use of his yacht and private plane.

Haidl paid Carona $1,000 a month in cash for a "get out of jail free card" for friends and family members and full access to sheriff's department resources.

Haidl appointed Carona and Jaramillo to the board of directors of a company owned by Haidl's uncle.

Carona asked Jaramillo to lobby the county district attorney to charge Haidl's son, Gregory, as a juvenile instead of as an adult when the teenager was arrested in connection with a 2002 gang rape.

In 2003, Gregory Haidl received preferential treatment from the Sheriff's Department with Carona's consent after being arrested on a drug charge.

Between March 2004 and August 2007, Carona met with the elder Haidl, and, in a tape-recorded conversation, persuaded and attempted to persuade Haidl "from testifying truthfully" before members of a grand jury.

At the end of October then Sheriff Carona and his wife set up a question and answer session which I found interesting and odd. You can read about it here.

Sheriff Carona then resigned the office in January saying he was retiring in order to take advantage of Pro Bono Attorneys who were assisting him. When it was learned his attorneys were working for free a complaint was filed alleging that the attorneys amounted to illegal gift exceeding the amount allowed by state law. That complaint was opposed by the sheriff but he decided to retire and end the complaint. A private citizen is clear to accept free attorneys.

This case continues to be interesting when you look at who his attorneys are. Carona's legal team will be led by Brian Sun, a Los Angeles lawyer who won a famous settlement from the federal government in the case of Wen Ho Lee, a scientist accused of being a Chinese spy in a case that proved to be an embarrassment to our own Governor Bill Richardson who was then Bill Clinton's Secretary of Energy. Sun also successfully appealed an Orange County politician's conviction for his role in the county's 1994 bankruptcy. Attorney John Cline who has represented I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former White House adviser, and former national security aide to Oliver North is also assisting in Carona's defense.

The Washington post recently did an extended article on this case which details a lot of the sexual aspects of this case. Reminiscent of President Richard Nixon, Sheriff Carona had video and audio tape recorders in his office. Those tapes have proven to be more of an embarrassment than evidence as they detail derogative language and discussions of sexual conquests by the ex-sheriff. In another odd aspect to the case the Sheriff's cell phone accidentally dialed a phone number and an answering machine recorded Sheriff Carona having sex in a county vehicle with one of his deputies. Somehow this recording is being considered for use by the prosecution in the upcoming trial. The female deputy has agreed to testify and
Court papers indicate the woman has revealed to investigators "physical characteristics, the kinds of sex he preferred, examples of sexual talk, and a nickname he used for his private parts." In case your wondering the nickname is "Little Sheriff".

Carona's fellow indicted former friend and cohort
Donald Haidl began assisting the feds in this case. He wore a wire and had several meetings with his former friend and Ex-Sheriff. Reportedly the tapes have Carona outlining the testimony Haidl should give and discuss whether their is an evidence trail of the money and gifts Haidl gave Carona. During a conversation with Haidl in which he was wearing a wire Sheriff Carona describes the rich people he hung out with like this..

"All the guys that, you know, got a lot of zeros, you know, in their bank accounts have checkered pasts, man," he said one July night last year. "Didn't want anything from me. They just enjoyed having fun and, you know, probably liked hanging out with the sheriff, thought that was cool. And I liked hanging out with them 'cause I thought that was cool.

"You wanna put me in jail for that, put 12 people in the box, and let's rock-and-roll."

Some feel that the Sheriff has been targeted by the feds and from higher ups in Washington for his controversial stances on issues such as immigration. Yet President Bush at one time appointed Sheriff Carona to the National Homeland Security Advisory Council. The Web Site has numerous videos which look at why the feds are after Sheriff Carona and how the media is affecting the case. Here is a short version of the videos which looks at whether the Sheriff was unjustly targeted by the feds ...

This whole story reminded me of a conversation I had with the movie actor Burt Reynolds when he was in Santa Fe Filming the movie The Longest Yard. Burt Reynolds told me some stories about his dad who was a Police Officer and a Sheriff. As we were talking he asked me the question "how can you tell an honest Sheriff?" I didn't know exactly how to answer the question so I just kind of shrugged my shoulders. He responded " he is a poor sheriff".

I will never forget that only because the same can be applied to any elected official. Not necessarily in the specific sense but rather in a general sense. A lot of times elected officials are already lawyers, successful business owners and those who already have money. Sometimes that does not keep them from wanting more. Other times some seek office for the prestige and the ability to meet and hang out with the elite and powerful. When someone seeks office for the greater good and really does not do it for themselves that is what democracy is all about. After they are elected keeping that sense of greater good is even more important.

When I was elected I started getting invited to the high brow events, meetings with business leaders and others who I believe not only wanted to meet me but try and gain inside access. Maybe they just want the ability to have my phone number and feel that their phone calls would be answered quicker than others. I really have never been asked for unethical or special treatment for some over others. I think maybe its because once someone meets me and talks to me they understand that I will not do such things. As for my phone number, anyone who asks gets it and I try hard to give equal access to all.

Growing up experiencing food stamps, housing assistance, and a mother who worked two and three jobs to feed and raise her four children, I can't say that I am now a poor sheriff. Sometimes my family squeaks by and by no means are we monetarily well off. What I am blessed with is the riches of a great wife, two kids I love, and a family some people only dream of. I think they are the reason I stay grounded, the reason I continue every day to try and be a "good sheriff".

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