Ex-OC Sheriff Carona — the videotapes!

It’s been a while since I checked in on our most entertaining former county sheriff. And oh the roffles today:

Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson has turned over to federal prosecutors a computer containing video footage from former Sheriff Mike Carona’s office.

“The matter has been turned over to the U.S. attorney’s office where they are working in conjunction with the FBI to further investigate the matter,” Anderson said. “As it is under investigation, I cannot comment further.”

The video-only surveillance camera was installed in Carona’s office by the sheriff’s department in 2001 or 2002 for security reasons following Carona’s appointment as a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Jeff Rawitz, Carona’s attorney. Some things had been taken from Carona’s office and officers with the department’s Dignitary Protection Unit were concerned about the national security documents within the office, he said.

“It was a security system consistent with what many companies use to monitor sensitive locations after hours,” Rawitz said. “Mike did not operate the system, have access to the system and has never seen any of the videos recorded by the system. It was purely for security purposes.”

Bad couple of days for that legal team, it has to be said. First the judge tells ’em no venue change, now this. At least they have a Memorial Day weekend for them to relax and go, “Wait…what did we get ourselves into again?”

“Business as usual in police room…”

I’ve had a few tart comments in the past regarding a certain local ex-sheriff. But it didn’t start with him and nor did it stop — and corruption was, in ways, one of the least things about it, when you consider what happened back in 2006:

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies at Theo Lacy Jail systematically shirked their duties by sleeping in the guard station, playing video games and using jailhouse bullies to punish other inmates, a special grand jury found while looking into the 2006 death of inmate John Derek Chamberlain.

Thousands of pages of transcripts released Monday by the Superior Court showed a jail system out of control, with deputies failing to perform even cursory patrols of the jail barracks, instead relying on jail “shotcallers” – or inmate leaders – to enforce the rules. The use of inmates to control other inmates is against department policy, but deputies violated rule after rule in an effort to do as little work as possible, records show.

Documents released Monday show that grand jurors found during its nine-month probe that:

* Sheriff’s employees testified falsely and violated the panel’s secrecy laws, comparing notes on their testimony and disclosing questions asked by jurors.
* The sheriff’s department dragged its heels in complying with subpoenas, providing only partial information if any information at all.
* Guards in charge of the barracks where Chamberlain was housed had not checked on the inmates for six hours prior to the slaying, although they recorded in the official log that they had made checks every 30-minutes. Testimony showed that sometimes the logs were prepared in advance of the shift. On the day Chamberlain died, the log was changed to reflect that he was not concerned for his safety.
* Sheriff’s officials routinely disclosed inmate charges to the public at the time Chamberlain was assaulted. In fact, prior to his death, Chamberlain’s information had been given to as many as 10 anonymous callers.

The full report can be read here, and I encourage review of it. Among other delights — the fact that one Michael Carona took the Fifth Amendment when he was asked a simple question regarding whether he was in fact the sheriff at the time. Suave.

Right now the OC Sheriff’s office — hell, the whole department — is arguably in even more of a mess than ever, for good reason. Scott Moxley’s latest portrayal of the run-up to the selection of a new sheriff says plenty. But it’s the comments section of the first story I’ve linked which has had me thinking a bit, and I hope to have more to say about thoughts in there tonight.

In which Michael Carona’s chances go from slim to none

Likely enough. Carona’s humiliating collapse from OC sheriff to private citizen very likely to end up serving time is far from complete — the court case doesn’t even begin for a few more months — but the hole he’s in ended up in sunk a little deeper yesterday:

Transcripts of secretly recorded conversations show former Sheriff Mike Carona apparently plotting with confidant Don Haidl to align their stories about cash and gifts if subpoenaed by federal prosecutors.

At one point in the obscenity-laced conversation, Carona emphatically says that money he received from Haidl is “completely untraceable” on his end, according to the transcripts.

At another point when the two men were discussing gifts, Carona says, “unless there was a pinhole in your ceiling that evening, it never (expletive) happened, because it never (expletive) happened Don. It never (expletive) happened,” the transcripts says.

This all surfaced because Carona’s defense invoked a rather convoluted argument:

Carona’s defense team objected in a motion last week to the propriety of wiring Haidl to secretly record conversations with the sheriff.

The 50-page motion by Carona lawyer H. Dean Steward alleged that federal prosecutors used “sham” grand jury subpoenas as a starting point to elicit incriminating statements from Carona.

The strategy violated legal ethics because investigators knew at the time that Carona was represented by an attorney, Steward alleged.

I can *kinda* see this as an argument but I’d have to squint. Word is that this argument isn’t likely to fly with the judge, and the prosecution basically called a bluff by posting the excerpts.

You can read the whole thing here — I think the bit about Don Haidl being a ‘stand-up motherfucker’ is my favorite part. (Hey, runs in the family.)

The comments on the article are even more interesting, actually — a lot of venting going on about an OC GOP power structure now deeply out of sorts (and as R. Scott Moxley’s story the other day shows, less of a defining characteristic of this county than might be guessed). Many of the comments aren’t exactly what I would call polite or allied with my own viewpoint — ie, complaining about the supervisors et al as being, and I quote, ‘no different than any of the illegals or any other degenerate that we chastise for their feloneous behaviors’ — but then again plenty of OC folks view the GOP as just a sellout of conservative principles, so take that on board.

Perhaps my favorite, offhand:

And now the Board of Supes answer to rid the county of all this nefarious corruption is to spend over a million dollars of our money a year for an Office of Independent Review (OIR) in which a bunch of government bureaucrats from law enforcement agencies pick a group of attorneys to oversee our sheriff’s department. haha. That’s like allowing Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy to select an oversight committee to monitor the Mayor of Transylvania! Not only that. The OIR will have no authority whatsoever. It will depend upon the voluntary cooperation of OCSD! Imagine that! An oversight committee having no authority over the agency it is overseeing and we are getting tagged for over a million buck a year to fund it! That’s like telling the IRS to collect taxes but not giving them the authority to seize bank accounts! More wasted taxdollars! Does this insanity have no end?

No. That would make too much sense.

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Michael Carona, ex-OC sheriff

Okay, so — you might remember a few months back I said a couple of things about one Mr. Carona and his indictment. He had temporarily stepped aside in a bluff that fooled nobody, quietly returned a few days ago, and perhaps realized that what goodwill he had was even more spent than ever.

And so

Sheriff Mike Carona announced his resignation today “with a heavy heart,” saying it would be best for the department and the county if he was not distracted while defending himself against federal public corruption charges.

Carona placed his announcement on the department’s Web site and is expected to meet with reporters later today.

“Although this is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, my family, my staff and my lawyers all believe that this is the right time to take my retirement,” Carona said. “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.”

Have fun with that!

The announcement is here, but I think you’ll probably get more fun comments over at the OC Weekly, as ever.

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Some updates on past post subjects

Just a little catchall here on a full day!

  • Tim Finney’s doing very well after his surgery and has resumed posting his best-of-2007 series. You can follow it on ILX here.
  • Michael Carona has returned to work. The atmosphere around there must be ever so happy.
  • Iraq is still there. People are still dying. And stories like this one don’t leave me happy.
  • New Hampshire down, yet more primaries and caucuses to go. Now that things are actually in gear I admit to a little excitement, just because things are so fractured right now. For a variety of reasons I think this is a good thing.
  • Current reading: this. Looks good so far.

Hope your Wednesday is going well!

Random end-of-the-week political thoughts

NaNoWriMo posts to continue tomorrow and onward. Hope everyone’s well.

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OC sheriff fun round 3 — he’s kinda stepping aside!


Yesterday, one Michael Carona appeared in court, along with his co-defendants, to plead not guilty. It was all essentially theater but it was theater with a purpose — the steps have to be made, rules have to be followed, etc. This was further heightened by Carona’s first full-on media appearance since it all went down, with even a heckler along for the ride:

On Monday morning outside the federal courthouse in Santa Ana after his arraignment, he vowed once again to remain in office and asked the public and the media to remember that he is innocent until proved guilty.

“I am not happy that I am in this legal proceeding,” he said. “I am very excited the American justice system allows me to have my day in court.”

L.J. Guillory, of the watchdog group Ombudsman International, loudly interrupted Carona as he read from a prepared statement and asked why he was not resigning. Carona asked Guillory to let him finish. Then Guillory followed the sheriff and his wife to a waiting car, shouting that taxpayers would not stand for him remaining in office.

“He should step down,” Guillory said as Carona and his wife drove away. “We’re going to keep asking the public to ask him to step down.”

The trial itself is supposedly set for Dec. 18 but pretty much the guess is this will start no sooner than next summer.

Meantime, yesterday provided more general moves among the Board of Supervisors as they tried to figure out what was next — Moorlach still wants Carona fully out on his ear, Campbell is more wait and see. There wasn’t much to say beyond that, at least in terms of what was publicly known.

Today, however, has been a double whammy — first, Carona’s employees, the actual sheriff’s deputies, told him in a statement to please pack sand:

Sheriff Carona’s serious legal issues have become a growing distraction to the
day to day operation of the Department. His issues have caused an erosion in the public’s
confidence in our ability to provide services to the citizens of Orange County.

The AOCDS Board of Directors unanimously believes that it is in the best interest of the
community, the Department and our membership for the Sheriff to resign immediately or
take a leave of absence until this matter is resolved.

The hard working men and women of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs
wish to assure the citizens of Orange County that they will continue to receive the high
level of law enforcement service that they deserve and have come to expect.

In otherwards, ‘please go so that people will stop laughing at us and being mean’ — which is not all that far from the truth, as I’ll note in a bit. The department managers are meant to be drawing up a similar statement later today, by some accounts.

Within an hour, Supervisor Chris Norby read out a principled statement from the sheriff — he’s going…for two months:

Carona proposed that during his absence Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky would be in charge.

“I will be taking a 60-day leave of absence in order to devote my full time and energy towards battling the untrue and baseless charges made against my wife, Debbie and me,” Carona said in his statement. “This was not an easy decision for me to make, given that I know that the charges against me are without merit.”

It’s all very sweet sounding and proper — and it needs to be. Carona, interestingly enough, has learned a lesson that someone like Roscoe Conkling never did: if you actually resign and leave the office, you are then by default on the outside, regardless of whatever connections you have made. Holding on to it as long as possible, even by means of this glorified fig leaf, gives him an anchor, just. Also, as was noted over at the OC Register:

By using 60 days, Carona sidesteps the ordinance that says if an elected official vacates his or her office for 90 days, they can be formally removed. So this way, the sheriff gets to keep his job.

The possible technicalities involved here are amusing to contemplate. What happens if Carona comes back for a couple of days and then decides to take a second leave of 60 days, for instance? Might sound conniving but then again, consider who we are dealing with. In any event, Bill Hunt, the former deputy who had led the most open revolt against Carona from within the department in recent years, summed it up perfectly:

“It’s appalling to me that he has no intention of doing the right thing,” Hunt told me. “He’s going to use the office as a bargaining chip as long as he can to increase his options in negotiating a plea deal.”

And thus things hang for now. But to go back to my bit of snark earlier — if this one blog comment is legit, and there’s no reason to necessarily doubt it, morale inside the department is hitting rock bottom:

Corona needs to step down and prevent further embarassment to the people of the department. Employees are constantly getting badgered, questioned and joked at as a result of the antics of this weasel. Employees within the department are inconstant fear of retaliation and retribution by his group on the “inside” should any of us say anything in the negative tense regarding him, his wife or mistress. Please, for the sake of God, leave us now.

Doesn’t seem like this’ll be ending any time soon.

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The OC sheriff saga — already in farce mode

Really, this couldn’t get any more ridiculous now than it already has been. And it has.

As I mentioned back on Halloween, current OC County Sheriff Michael Carona — an elected post, it’s important to note — was indicted for all sorts of fun things. The last few days have seen a bit of political theater, including the arraignment of Carona, his wife and his mistress all at once, and in handcuffs at that, a variety of spluttering editorials and condemnations from people who should have known better and plenty of speculation as to what exactly will happen next. Because, as noted, this is an elected position, rather than one with a specific boss who can hire and fire people.

Which is precisely why, so far, Carona hasn’t budged.

It’s utterly, wickedly hilarious, frankly. As various defenders of Carona have tendentiously noted, the indictment and all that results from it is not a conviction, merely the start in the formal legal process. Speculation is running rampant that pressure is being brought to bear on him to turn on others the way that his former two minions Jaramillo and Haidl have on him, and if that process starts who knows where it will end, since the name mentioned more than once is DA Tony Rackauckas, who notably is not involved in the prosecution. Since it’s still early days all around, I’m content on that front just to sit and wait.

However it doesn’t address the core fact — an indicted man is currently the sheriff of Orange County, has claimed his innocence and says he’s not leaving. This argument hasn’t exactly washed with a lot of people and in the runup to the weekend everything was left hanging with a waffle of claims and counterclaims about whether he would or wouldn’t step aside. Nothing was much clearer since, and the fact that Rackauckas has sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors saying Carona should step aside is all the more interesting.

Meantime, the continuing reactions are telling. Board member John Moorlach, something of an OC political legend due to his accurate warnings about the financial games leading to the county’s bankruptcy back in the mid-90s, is otherwise pretty much a typical OC political character or rather caricature. It’s therefore a bit amusing to hear that he sent out an e-mail yesterday which was apparently a rant, though the full text has yet to surface:

[Moorlach] said he had heard the gossip about Carona’s alleged infidelity years ago but he chose to believe “this good Christian sheriff was just the recipient of a smear campaign.”

“On Tuesday morning, I, along with the rest of the county, had to find out from the media that Michael Carona was living a double life,” Moorlach wrote.

Except to repeat again — the OC Weekly via R. Scott Moxley had been covering this, and detailing those allegations, for years. The embarrassment isn’t finding out from ‘the media’ but that the supposed ‘smear campaign’ by a member of said media happened to actually be investigative reporting detailing things now leading to federal charges. Good job, guy. One suspects Moorlach right now is wishing his predictive skills were as sharp with smiling gladhanders dribbling virtue as they were with derivatives.

More entertaining today, though, is one of the crustiest men in a very crusty county, OC Register columnist Gordon Dillow, as much a representation of the soul of this place as, say, Mike Royko was for Chicago or Herb Caen was for San Francisco. The soul of Orange County being a different thing, Dillow’s views on life are generally of the pleasant variety showcasing the views of a man, as the Weekly’s Nick Schou says here, “who’s never seen an officer-involved shooting or excessive use of taser on an unarmed suspect he didn’t like.” There’s other stuff to talk about with Dillow as well but that really requires a separate post and the patience to deal with him, and the latter is not high on my priority list.

So today Dillow pens a boldly ahead of the curve claim that Carona might want to consider stepping down — bravo — and does so with the kind of fearless elan that…no, wait:

There are a lot of things that Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona can say in his own defense after being indicted by a federal grand jury on corruption charges last week.

[Dillow then goes on to say many such things, mostly either dwelling on technicalities or the idea that ‘a thousand bucks here, twelve thousand there’ were ‘minor financial and personal matters’ or similarly stirring stuff.]

He can argue all of that, and some or all of it may even be true. I’ve covered numerous federal criminal cases in my newspaper career, and after studying the indictment I have to say that, based solely on what’s on those pages, the conspiracy and witness-tampering charges against Carona do seem a little thin – at least so far.

But none of that changes this one inescapable fact:

Mike Carona can’t be sheriff anymore.

Before I continue, I should note that while I’m not a friend or political supporter of Carona, I’ve met and spoken with him numerous times over the years, and personally I liked the guy. As troubling as the allegations are, including the parts involving the alleged “mistress” – I don’t have any insight into Carona’s private life, but generally speaking, a man who cheats on his wife is by definition not a completely honest man – it saddens me to see him brought so low.

What’s beautiful about this are all the conditionals and the very way this is all set up. A few paragraphs essentially arguing Carona’s case for him, a meek ‘well gee he might have a point, you know those federal indictments!,’ a suddenly firm ‘he can’t be sheriff and BTW he was never my friend or anything…’ followed by a ‘nice guy, though’ clause. Then of course this as the killer touch: “…generally speaking, a man who cheats on his wife is by definition not a completely honest man.” Specifically speaking, perhaps, some can be generally honest if not completely. I’d love to see this guy as a marriage counselor.

The fact that this selection ends on a note of self-pity — Dillow is sad, oh noes! — is the most amusing part. That said, I was feeling a bit down in my first post on this the other day, not because I was feeling any sympathy at all for Carona, but because I was concerned about the continuing impact of idiocy like this in the mind of voters and citizens, not just here but elsewhere. Dillow rebounds later in the essay to address that a little more concretely but this type of mawkish there-but-for sentiment regarding Carona as a person strikes me as the type of thing he would condemn if this involved all those damned leftists out there he hates, though maybe a search for his doubtless equally thoughtful musings in the days of Monica Lewinsky’s fame will produce similar feelings of sorrow. I have my doubts, though.

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There’s a new sheriff in town…or will be

Michael Carona is still, at the present time, Orange County’s sheriff. This probably isn’t going to last, though:

Carona broke the law by failing to disclose that he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts for himself, his wife and his former “longtime mistress,” according to a federal indictment unsealed this morning.

The women, Debbie Carona and Deborah Hoffman, were described as co-conspirators and were also indicted.

The gifts — primarily from former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl — included cash payments of as much as $112,000, a boat, a trip to Lake Tahoe and ringside tickets to the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad title fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the indictment says.

The alleged conspiracy stretched from the months before Carona’s election in 1998 until August, when he is accused of attempting to “corruptly persuade” Haidl, in a tape-recorded conversation, to withhold testimony from the grand jury. Haidl has also been indicted.

None of this could have happened to nicer people. Seeing Haidl in this fix is especially delicious since his son figured in a disgusting rape case around here some years back — and, quite happily, was convicted and sent to jail. The chances that both Haidls are going to be serving in the same prison at the same time and all are doubtless pretty slim, but I admit it’s a great image.

But Carona, well, where to begin. Rather handily, though, there is a good spot — R. Scott Moxley at the OC Weekly, who handled the Haidl coverage I just linked to, has been digging deep on Carona for a long while now, and put together his own greatest hits collection of articles after the news broke. Well worth your time.

Stuff like this doesn’t thrill me, I have to admit. Don’t get me wrong, I am plenty thrilled by a lot of it, whether it’s the fact that all the dodging and weaving on Carona’s part all this time hasn’t helped him escape indictment — and getting named along with his wife *and* mistress must really have led to some fun dinner table talk tonight in his household — or just in seeing another typical OC blowhard get his. The folks over at the Crystal Cathedral are probably pretty happy that there’s no YouTube footage up (at least, up yet) of him talking about family values there.

But still, it doesn’t thrill me because, after one, one should hope for better. This isn’t a naive ‘however could a *policeman* be a crook’ wish or the like, merely an acknowledgment that even in a place like Orange County, and with plenty to suspect about those in power or have access to it, assuming a baseline of criminality by default bespeaks a total lack of faith in those engaged in local government at that level. I’d rather not live my life always thinking that, though certainly I think there’s every reason to assume a duty on the part of an informed citizenship to be aware of what abuses can and do occur, and to react against them. It may seem a hard balance, but it is not an impossible one to assume.

In any event, this is just an indictment so far, though the details of that indictment are pretty damning and already some local politicians are saying he should resign. Carona’s putting up some bravado for now:

“I’m staying because I love the job and I do a good job,” Carona said. “Most importantly, I have committed no criminal acts.”

Somehow, the recent travails of Michael Vick and Marion Jones come to mind.

[UPDATE: Gustavo Arellano has added to the OC Weekly coverage with a bit about other charming folks in the past who have held the office of sheriff. This, I admit, makes me rethink part of my post — maybe you just have to be a doof to be elected sheriff in the first place. Not a problem per se, I just wish the ballots were clearer on the point.]