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MassCops Angel
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SANTA ANA, Calif. -- More than a year ago, Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona nibbled on crab cakes at a ritzy, seaside restaurant and praised his dinner companion for unflinching loyalty and friendship.
Carona didn't know the man he considered his best friend was wearing a wire as part of a federal corruption investigation that would upend the nation's fifth-largest sheriff's department and snuff out Carona's rising star.
Three months after that dinner, the government filed charges against Carona that cost him and key supporters their jobs in a case that features hidden cameras in Carona's office, profanity-laced recordings and allegations of misconduct by prosecutors.
Opening statements are expected Wednesday in the trial of the lawman once hailed as "America's Sheriff" by CNN's Larry King.
Carona, 53, has vigorously denied the felony charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering. The charges carry up to 85 years in prison, but he could be sentenced to much less if convicted.
His wife will stand trial later. She has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy.
A woman described as Carona's mistress is being tried with him. The woman, an attorney, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud.
The trial is expected to last two months and the taped conversations -- which contain sexual remarks and racial slurs -- promise to figure prominently.
Legal experts said the allegations of political corruption make it a high-stakes trial for the government.
"To a certain degree, the average citizen expects that when people are in a position of power, they're going to use it to ... benefit their friends," said Jean Rosenbluth, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a former federal prosecutor. "But it's the extent of it and the nature of how engrained it was that's disturbing in this case."
The intrigue grew after the acting sheriff discovered a secret room in Carona's old office that contained a video recording system and cameras hidden in the ceiling. The tapes were turned over to prosecutors.
In court papers, the government accuses the square-jawed, three-term sheriff and his friends of accepting nearly $700,000 in cash, gifts, kickbacks and questionable loans in exchange for political favors beginning in 1998. Prosecutors say many of those bribes came from Don Haidl, a wealthy businessman.
In exchange, authorities say, Carona made Haidl an assistant sheriff and put him in charge of a new reserve deputy program that allowed him to hand out badges and concealed weapons permits in a pay-to-play scheme.
Haidl pleaded guilty last year to tax fraud and agreed to become an undercover informant.
It's unclear if Carona will testify in his own defense, but prosecutors plan to present a laundry-list of cooperating witnesses, including two of Carona's former assistant sheriffs and an attorney who allegedly provided kickbacks for legal referrals.
During the taped meeting last summer, Haidl and Carona appeared to get their stories straight as the threat of federal grand jury testimony loomed.
"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 on the tape, referring to another assistant sheriff and alleged co-conspirator.
"No trail anywhere," Carona replied. "Period. Period. In fact, not even close to being a trail."
In another exchange about bribery allegations, Carona appeared to refer 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 on the tape. "And that part is why I sleep real well at night."
Carona's attorney, Brian Sun, declined to comment on the case or the tapes. During a hearing this week, he said he might subpoena Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to testify about how he once offered Carona a job as his chief of staff.
In legal filings, Carona's attorneys have argued their client was a dedicated lawman unfairly targeted by overzealous prosecutors with a flawed case.
Carona attracted the national spotlight and the praise of CNN's King in 2002, after the quick arrest of a man who was later convicted of killing a 5-year-old girl.
At trial, Carona's defense will likely highlight Carona's popularity and ask jurors to question the trustworthiness of the cooperating witnesses.
His attorneys also question the tactics of prosecutors who provided phony grand jury subpoena attachments to help Haidl get Carona to talk and allege that grand jury witnesses gave potentially false testimony.
A judge rejected a defense motion to suppress the tapes but did bar some portions where Carona makes sexually explicit and racially offensive remarks.

http://www1.whdh.com/news/articles/national/BO93103/
 

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MassCops Angel
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121,497 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Secret Recordings Played at Ex-California Sheriff's Trial

By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Associated Press Writer

SANTA ANA, Calif. --

Federal prosecutors played secretly recorded conversations Thursday that they said show former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona discussing whether tens of thousands of dollars in alleged cash bribes can be traced.
The recordings are central to the government's case against Carona, the former head of the nation's fifth-largest sheriff's department, who was indicted last year on public corruption charges.
Prosecutors allege that over several years Carona, his mistress Debra Hoffman, his wife and a close group of friends accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the power of Carona's office.
The government contends the scheme began as early as 1998, when Carona - an underdog candidate - asked millionaire businessman Don Haidl to help him launder tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Haidl went on to pay Carona monthly bribes of $1,000 in exchange for access to the department's resources and an assistant sheriff's position that put him in charge of a new reserve deputy program, prosecutors allege.
Carona, 53, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering. His mistress, Debra Hoffman, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud. Carona's wife, Deborah, will be tried separately on a single count of conspiracy.
On Thursday, prosecutors played six segments from three conversations between Carona and Haidl last summer. Haidl brought phony grand jury subpoena attachments to the last meeting to get a reticent Carona to talk.
Carona already knew that former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo and an attorney friend had been talking to government investigators about the alleged bribes and money laundering.
In one exchange, Haidl and Carona talk about how investigators will scrutinize their financial transactions, and Haidl asks Carona whether Hoffman, his mistress, can be trusted not to say anything.
"Well, here's something that everybody can sleep real good at night about. The limited cash that I had, it didn't end up in bank accounts ... or, you know, new cars or any of that," Carona said. "The only person that probably got cash ... would be Deb Hoffman."
"And she's cool?" Haidl replied, seeking assurance that she wouldn't say anything.
Carona said Hoffman would not, and added: "You know, the money she got, you can pretty much match it up against ATM withdrawals that I had," Carona says. "Not only is she cool, she's - there's - you know, she would know better."
In another segment, Carona elaborates on how he pays Hoffman $200 a month to help pay the rent at her law office, in part so they can have a place to carry on their affair. Haidl asks for reassurance that Hoffman doesn't know where the cash was coming from.
"Has no idea where it came from. And, by the way, if you go back and look, my answer's gonna be, it came from my account," Carona replies.
Carona's defense team has said that Haidl is a liar and a manipulator who will say whatever the government wants to save himself. His attorneys also say that Carona was unaware that Haidl was soliciting illegal donations for him and therefore can't be held responsible.
They also contend that prosecutors acted improperly in securing the secret recordings because they gave Haidl phony subpoena attachments to show Carona to get him to talk.

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