Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Carona gets 66 months in federal prison [Updated]


Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona was sentenced this afternoon to 66 months in federal prison and fined $125,000 in a high-profile corruption case.

The corruption case cast a long shadow over the state’s second-largest sheriff’s department and shattered the career of a man many believed had the personality and political chops to carry him to Sacramento, or even Washington.

Carona was convicted in January of witness-tampering after a two-month trial, peppered with accounts of influence peddling within his administration.

[Updated at 5:18 p.m.: Federal Judge Andrew Guilford was harsh as he handed down the sentence following a four-hour hearing during which the former sheriff’s attorneys argued for leniency, saying the media had sensationalized the case.

“Lying will not be tolerated in this courtroom, especially by law enforcement, especially by the leading law enforcement official in the county," said Guilford, who held up a copy of the book “The Importance of Being Honest” and read a passage to Carona.

Carona, dressed in a gray suit and blue necktie, spoke only briefly, thanking Guilford for his “kindness and courtesy.”

“Mr. Carona violated his sworn duty and utterly ignored his responsibilities to the citizens of Orange County by engaging in the conduct that led to his conviction and sentence, conduct that culminated in an agreement to obstruct justice by concocting a story to cover up his corrupt behavior,” said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien in a statement. “Today’s sentencing shows what will happen to elected officals who place their own interests above those of the constituents they are sworn to serve.”

Carona will be held on bail pending appeal until July 24. The judge wanted him to be able to see his son's graduation.]

Witness testimony exposed raw details of his relationship with a longtime mistress, complete with tales of a love nest, Vegas getaways and secret bank accounts. Witnesses talked of bribes handed over in cash-stuffed envelopes, hidden cameras in the Sheriff’s Department and reserve badges for donors and the politically connected.

Jurors, though, acquitted Carona of charges that he misused his office to enrich himself and others by taking cash, bribes and gifts including vacations, World Series tickets and ringside boxing tickets. Jurors said that although they believed Carona had accepted cash and gifts, the statute of limitations prevented them from considering many of the alleged acts underlying the case.

The witness-tampering conviction stems from an August 2007 meeting at a Newport Beach restaurant between Carona and former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl. At the time, prosecutors were already years into a corruption investigation of Carona’s administration and Haidl was cooperating with investigators by carrying a hidden microphone.

The tapes, played repeatedly during the trial, capture a foul-mouthed Carona making sexist and racist remarks, bragging about being the “most lethal” politician in Orange County and sounding far removed from the man who exuded polished professionalism and spoke with passion at churches and prayer breakfasts.

During one exchange, Haidl is heard explaining to Carona that money he had given him came from a private safe and was untraceable.

“Well, on my end of it, completely untraceable, completely untraceable,” Carona responds.

At other points in the tape, Carona vows that he will deny receiving money from Haidl, and that they can track each other's testimony before the grand jury through their attorneys.

“Your story is my story,” Carona tells Haidl.

Carona’s attorneys maintained that the tapes should have been suppressed as evidence because prosecutors knew Carona was being represented by an attorney at the time. They remain hopeful the conviction will be reversed on appeal.

Carona is the highest-ranking law enforcement official to be prosecuted in Orange County. The case against him was years in the making and built with the help of Haidl and another former assistant, George Jaramillo. Their willingness to turn against Carona and plead guilty to lesser tax-fraud charges was a pivotal break in the lives of three men who once trusted each other so much that they nicknamed themselves “Team Forever.”

Their story began in 1998, when Carona narrowly defeated Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters in the race for sheriff. Jaramillo, a cop turned lawyer, managed Carona’s campaign. Haidl, a high-school dropout who built a fortune auctioning government fleet cars, was a major campaign donor.

Carona weathered early criticism for changing department rules so he could bring Haidl and Jaramillo onto his command staff. Neither had the required experience.

Any questions about Carona’s leadership, however, were put aside in the summer of 2002 when the sheriff became an overnight political star by leading the successful hunt for the man who murdered Samantha Runnion, a 5-year-old girl kidnapped from in front of her Stanton home.

Larry King dubbed him “America’s Sheriff.” The White House made him a homeland security adviser. He was groomed as a prospective candidate for lieutenant governor.

But in rapid-fire order, Carona’s career was reshaped by a series of scandals, from the arrest of Haidl’s son in a high-profile assault to the firing and eventual conviction of Jaramillo on perjury charges.

-- Christine Hanley

Photo: Former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona leaves the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana with his wife, Deborah. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (21)

criminal!!!!! was he remanded to prison?

Good riddance. Just another crook going to prison.

It's the right first step in reminding Law Enforcement officials that they are NOT above the law!
They are supposed to enforce the law, not make it up as they go along or ignore it when they feel like it!
They should be held to a much higher standard than ordinary citizens when they break the law. They should be given much harsher sentences.
If they don't like the risks they take on the streets, then don't become cops in the first place!

It couldn't of happen to a nastier guy. If the common everyday guy does this, he goes to jail for a lot longer time. Goodby and good ridence Mr. Corona.


As a long time law enforcement investigator in OC, this is just and needed to prove no one is above the law. OC Sheriffs dept is full of problems from the jail personnel to field officers.

This is not the OK corral its 2009 and proffesionalism and integrity is needed in the OC Sherrifs department. They still need a good house cleaning starting with jail staff up the chain of command

"first step in reminding Law Enforcement officials"

Well, the people voted in this guy, so the people got what they wanted. You can't blame the po-po for this, the people hired this guy. This is all your fault Johnny Citizen Taxpayer. Now get outta the way and let the police do their jobs.

Back the badge!

You Californians forgot................. was Former Sheriff Michael S. Carona accomplished for
Orange County...................

If only he could have gotten that immunity deal signed with I.C.E. in time he would have gotten away with it.

about time. proper thanks needs to go to the OC Weekly for help in exposing this.

Hallo y'all:

How is a 66 month sentence deemed "harsh" in light of the prosecution's request for a normal sentence of 108 months and the probation department's recommendation of a lenient 78 months? Is the Times privy to a different schedule of punishments under the federal guidelines?

The Times should publish the guidelines that allow it to refer to the punishment as "harsh".

Otherwise, Judge Andrew Guilford must be reckoned another in the long line of press-vilified Softies who undercut the guidelines.

BTW, how many convicted federal felons already sentenced to more than 5 years in prison are permitted to go to quinceaneras, graduations, birthday parties, etc? Will the Times provide that number, preferably in fraction form?

Should we hold our collective breaths until 10 days past Bastille Day to see the convict actually be remanded to federal prison? I think I have neither the lungs nor the naivete.

Harsh, indeed.


Does Corona have to pay taxes on his ill gotten gains?

No one is above the law, even if you're "America's Sheriff". Carona could've done some amazing things with his political power, instead, he chosed the "dark side".

It could've been worse for him if he was convicted on all charges. He's definitely not innocent, so he should be incarcerated for his abuse of power; the same power that could've harmed more people in passing time.

Boy the corruption doesn't stop at the sheriff's office, check out Long Beach's corrupt DA's office. The DV prosecutor Sharon Devine Panian, is just as bad, she hides evidence of innocence from the equally clueless DV Judge Deborah B. Andrews, prosecuting innocent people falsely accused of DV. She gets rewarded by these DV advocates who have no idea she's actually stalking a married cop with 4 kids.
Now theres someone who needs to be put away!

I am very happy and grateful to Judge Andrew J. Guilford for not only the sentence of the former sheriff, but the comments he made are very telling of the seriousness of this case.

Lets remember that the former sheriff was in charge of my daughter Andrea Nelson's autopsy, and the cause of death has been disputed.

Why should he recieve special treatment, after the pain this man has inflicited on this county?

The story says: "Carona will be held on bail pending appeal until July 24. The judge wanted him to be able to see his son's graduation."

Huh? Do you mean "free" on bail, pending appeal?? What's "held on bail"? Never heard that before.

A pubic official with a criminal mind caught in the act. Such a disgrace. How do you spelll thug?

I doubt that the news media has all the information necessary to provide news consumers about the extent of corruption within not only Orange County, but Los Angeles county (particularily the city of Long Beach) and Riverside County surrounding Mike Corona, ex-Orange County Marshall Captain Tom Twellman, ex-Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates, corrupt FBI in Orange County, Los Angeles County, and current Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

I support Michael Carona

I briefly spoke to Mr. Corona about three years ago, me being a felon, and him becoming one. He is extremely arogant, and finds no fault in his mishaps!! All I can say is good luck on the other side of the tracks.

Once more it shows that COPS LIE, yet innocent people everyday in courtrooms across this country have to defend themselves against manufactured lies produced by the judicial system. It is terrible.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.


Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: