Prosecutors Say Wiretaps Shows CA Ex-Sheriff Plotted Testimony

By: Gillian Flaccus AP
By: Gillian Flaccus AP

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - Former Orange County Sheriff Michael
Carona was caught on a wiretap plotting with a former top assistant
to lie to a grand jury investigating him for public corruption, according to transcripts filed Friday by federal prosecutors.

Portions of an Aug. 13, 2007 conversation between Carona and former assistant sheriff Don Haidl show the two men discussing cash and gifts Carona received from Haidl and what they would do if other witnesses testified against them.

At the time, Haidl had already pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in the probe and was secretly cooperating with the government.

Prosecutors said the transcript shows Carona "admitted to receiving cash and gifts from Haidl and made statements to further an ongoing plan to obstruct justice, specifically the then-pending grand jury investigations."

Carona's attorney, Dean Steward, did not immediately return phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

Carona, 52, is accused of pocketing nearly $700,000 in bribes and kickbacks during his nine years at the helm of the nation's fifth-largest sheriff's department. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud and two counts of witness tampering.

The government made the filing Friday as part of a response to a defense motion that seeks to bar the wiretaps made by Haidl on July
7, July 15 and Aug. 13.

In transcript excerpts, the two also talked about whether George Jaramillo, another assistant sheriff, witnessed Haidl giving cash to Carona in July 2002, when Haidl's son was arrested on rape charges and whether federal agents could trace the money.

"I don't give a (expletive) if George was in the room, whatever we did, as long as our stories are straight, I'm OK, as long as I know there's no trail anywhere," Haidl said.

"No trail anywhere," Carona replied. "Period. Period. In fact, not even close to being a trail."

On the possibility that Jaramillo would testify that Haidl gave Carona gifts, the former sheriff makes a reference to a hidden camera.

"Unless there was a pinhole in your ceiling that evening, it never (expletive) happened, because it never (expletive) happened, Don," Carona said. "And that part is why I sleep real well at night."

Carona retired in January to focus on his defense. His wife and alleged mistress were also indicted in the wide-ranging case and have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors had Haidl take fake grand jury subpoenas with him to the Aug. 13 meeting with Carona, and the recorded conversation revolves around what the investigators might have been seeking.

The defense argued that such recordings were only admissible in federal court if the target of the investigation hadn't already retained an attorney. But prosecutors knew Carona retained legal counsel two years earlier, his attorneys argued.

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

The former sheriff's wife, Deborah Carona, faces one count of conspiracy. Debra Hoffman, who prosecutors call Carona's longtime
mistress in court papers, faces one count of conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud and three counts of bankruptcy fraud.

Carona, who is free on bail, has a June 10 trial date. He could face up to 105 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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