Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, who is the target of a federal corruption case, retired Monday to focus on defending himself against the charges.
"With a heavy heart, I therefore announce my retirement as sheriff, effective today," Carona announced on the department's Web site. His attorney confirmed the statement.
Calling it one of the most difficult decisions he has ever made, Carona said he believed it was the right time for him to retire.
Carona, 52, was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering in October in a sweeping federal case that accuses him of pocketing nearly $700,000 in bribes and kickbacks. Prosecutors alleged he tried enrich himself, his wife and alleged mistress by accepting cash and gifts in exchange for political favors.
"This action will permit me to focus on vindicating my name and refuting the false charges which have been made against me and my wife," Carona said in his statement.
His attorney stressed that Carona was not resigning, which could imply he was leaving because of political pressure or criticism.
"He's not leaving because anyone is pushing him, he's retiring for four or five different reasons," H. Dean Steward told The Associated Press. Steward said one of those reasons was Carona's need to meet with his lawyers daily to prepare for his trial in June.
"He can't do that and be sheriff at the same time," Steward said.
A call to a sheriff's department spokesman was not immediately returned.