Orange County sheriff indicted on federal corruption charges | SierraSun.com

Orange County sheriff indicted on federal corruption charges

Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press Writer

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) ” Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering in a wide-ranging indictment unsealed Tuesday that also implicates his wife, his “longtime mistress” and two former assistant sheriffs.

One item identified in the 29-page indictment was a junket the sheriff, an aide, and their spouses took to Lake Tahoe, a trip paid for by a wealthy benefactor.

Carona, 52, was expected to surrender to authorities on Wednesday at the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, said U.S. Attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek. Also expected to surrender Wednesday were Carona’s wife of 27 years, Deborah, and attorney Debra Victoria Hoffman, who was identified in court papers as his mistress.

The sheriff’s criminal attorney, H. Dean Steward, said before the indictment was unsealed that he was not aware of any charges against his client. He did not immediately return an e-mail requesting comment after the charges were made public.

The two former assistant sheriffs, Donald Haidl and George Jaramillo, had 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.

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The 29-page indictment alleges that five friends conspired to get Carona elected in 1998 so he could then use his position to enrich himself and his cohorts.

The scheme allegedly began in 1998, when Haidl solicited donations to Carona’s campaign from others and then reimbursed the donors to hide the money trail, according to the indictment.

After Carona was elected, Haidl, a wealthy businessman, paid for a Lake Tahoe vacation for Carona, Jaramillo, himself and their spouses, officials said.

He also gave Carona a boat in 2001 and the personal use of his yacht and private plane, the indictment alleges. Haidl allegedly also continued to pay Carona $1,000 a month in cash for “full access to sheriff’s department resources” and a “get out of jail free card” for friends and family members.

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

Prosecutors say Carona appointed his wife to the Orange County Fair Board of Directors and Hoffman, his mistress, to the State Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention and the California Council on Criminal Justice, both of which he chaired.

Haidl has since pleaded guilty to a federal tax offense. Jaramillo has pleaded guilty to federal charges of honest services mail fraud and tax fraud.

The charges would be a serious blow to Carona, who was once a rising star in California Republican politics and had been mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor.

Carona has come under scrutiny before. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2005 that he had issued badges and concealed-weapons permits to campaign contributors without proper training or background checks.

In August, Carona agreed to a settlement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission and paid a $15,000 fine after he incorrectly billed his campaign committee for thousands of dollars in non-itemized expenses.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.