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.]