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Former O.C. Sheriff Carona could remain free past official surrender date

July 23, 2009 |  5:30 am

If a federal appeals court does not rule today on whether former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona may remain free pending appeal of his witness tampering conviction, he may get a few more days of freedom.

Carona, 53, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford to begin serving a 5 1/2-year prison term starting Friday. Though that is his official surrender date, his "bail pending appeal" motion before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals means that his actual surrender date will be tied to when the court issues a ruling, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.

The Bureau of Prisons has designated where Carona should serve his term, said defense attorney Brian Sun, but he declined to name the site.

Sun said Carona was allowed to attend the graduation of his 18-year-old son, Matt. He was also given permission to travel to New York with his family to celebrate his son's graduation from June 15 through June 19, according to court papers. Sun would not comment on Carona's state of mind as his surrender date approached.

Judge Guilford denied Carona’s release pending appeal in May but said Carona could take his case to the higher court -- which he did. Carona's appeal centers on California State Bar Rule 2-100, which forbids opposing lawyers from contacting someone in a case who is represented by a lawyer. Carona's attorneys argued that prosecutors violated this rule when they sent former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl, a key witness in the case, equipped with a wire to meet with Carona.

Carona, once dubbed "America's sheriff," was sentenced in April to a 66-month prison term and fined $125,000. A jury convicted him of witness tampering and acquitted him of five other criminal counts in January, including conspiracy and withholding honest services from the residents of Orange County.

--Tami Abdollah in Costa Mesa