Can We Get a Witness?
We’ve got 16 of ’em, courtesy of the federal prosecutors in the Mike Carona corruption trial
We’re near the halfway point in indicted ex-Sheriff Mike Carona’s federal corruption trial, so here’s a summary of the top 16 witnesses for the prosecution and how they’ve contributed to the government’s case, mitigating factors that might lessen the impact of their testimony with jurors, plus a bonus entry:
16. MARK SCOTT. The onetime banker for Don Haidl, Carona’s unqualified pick for assistant sheriff, Scott advised the wealthy Newport Beach businessman it made no financial sense to loan $110,000 to two individuals, George Jaramillo and Debra Hoffman, during Carona’s first campaign in 1998. What Scott didn’t know was that Haidl was secretly paying the two Carona campaign staffers, one Carona’s best friend and the other his mistress, as a favor to Carona. Mitigating factor:None.
15. DINA MAUGER. The district attorney’s office investigator said she believed it smelled “fishy” that Carona and Jaramillo used Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) resources to assist Charles Gabbard, a convicted felon-turned-businessman who’d given Carona approximately $40,000 in illegal campaign funds. Carona used his public office and OCSD stationery to endorse a proposed monopoly for Gabbard’s law-enforcement-related product. Mitigating factor: The DA’s office prosecuted only Jaramillo for the crimes.
14. BERNARD MCKINLEY. Don Haidl’s uncle (and a guy I certainly wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley) testified that Carona helped coordinate illegally funded campaign banners he placed near Pacific Coast Highway and Highway 55; he hoped to get $1,000 a month for a phantom board job at a charity; and often privately admitted that, without secret financial support from the Haidl clan, Carona “wouldn’t be sheriff.” Mitigating factor: Still seething because he believes Carona is a two-faced coward for not doing more to aid Don’s son Greg Haidl when he faced gang-rape charges.
13. BOB MCDONELL. Noting that he didn’t want to voluntarily cooperate with prosecutors, the retired Newport Beach police chief presented information that underscored the mechanics of the Carona-Jaramillo relationship: Jaramillo, as Carona’s chief of staff, was the ethically twisted pit bull protected by Carona after their screw-ups, such as when the sheriff’s department attempted to interfere with a Newport Beach police probe into the videotaped gang rape of an unconscious minor, a case involving Haidl’s teenage son. Mitigating factor: Claimed he had a “professional” relationship with Carona.
12. PEGGY HAIDL. Don Haidl’s sister admitted that she delivered envelopes stuffed with $100 bills from her brother to Carona, and that Jaramillo and Carona had ordered her to destroy the records she kept of illegally reimbursed campaign contributions Carona took in his 1998 upset win over Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters. Mitigating factor: Admitted she had engaged in illegal conduct for her brother.
11. SHIRLEY GRINDLE. Orange County’s unofficial but potent election watchdog, Grindle informed jurors that she’d had one-on-one contact with Carona and his campaign and that they were aware of the illegal contributions pouring into Carona’s coffers but did nothing about it. Mitigating factor: Grindle conceded that Carona had impressed her early on as a conscientious person.
10. GEORGE FELES. Debra Hoffman’s CPA supplied testimony that bolstered prosecutors’ contention that Hoffman and Carona had plans to marry, and thus giving large sums of money to her—as Haidl did repeatedly—was tantamount to bribing the sheriff, who had participated in a secret investment account the two lovebirds planned to share after he dumped his wife. Mitigating factor: Didn’t have much to say about Carona—whom he really didn’t know—but called Jaramillo “Satan.”
9. ELAINE VASQUEZ. Carona’s secretary at the sheriff’s department (and wife of a Republican heavy hitter), Vasquez told the jurors that Carona was fully aware of the annual legal requirements for public disclosure of outside income and gifts but hadn’t ever told her about transactions uncovered by the FBI and IRS. Mitigating factor: Told the jury that Carona liked to “work 24/7.”
8. JOE CAVALLO. The sheriff’s longtime drinking/camping/breakfast/workout pal, the convicted felon admitted that Carona told him how to raise illegal campaign funds, knowingly accepted illegal contributions, participated in kickback schemes, wanted Haidl to “take care of” his mistress financially with $5,000-per-month payments and used his public office to aid businessmen seeking government influence. Mitigating factor: Although he insisted Carona had been part of the kickback scheme, Cavallo hadn’t given any of the loot directly to the sheriff.
7. MARK DILULLO. The owner of a private-jet service, Dilullo admitted that Carona personally thanked him for raising illegal contributions, used Haidl’s private jets to shuffle a mistress to various locations and wanted flight logs doctored to mask that fact. Mitigating factor: He has a scary-soldier mentality and admits he likes to follow Haidl’s orders.
6. FRED LISANTI. The onetime high-ranking sheriff’s official underscored his disgust that Carona brought a personal-injury lawyer with him to give “condolences” to a woman whose husband, a deputy, has just died. The woman didn’t know that the lawyer, Cavallo, was operating a kickback scheme to reward Carona, his mistress, and assistant sheriffs Jaramillo and Haidl for case referrals. Mitigating factor: Conceded he didn’t personally see Carona take any of the money.
5. LISA JARAMILLO. The wife of Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo and onetime Carona fund-raiser recounted how, after she learned of illegal money pouring into Carona’s first campaign, the sheriff acknowledged that reality and said, “Sweetheart, if anyone goes to jail, it’s going to be me.” Mitigating factor: Is married to George.
4. SANDY MURPHY. The OCSD secretary shot the sleep out of several jurors’ eyes when she testified about a Carona-led cover-up for Jaramillo after the assistant sheriff got a “blowjob” in a county car from another government employee; revealed how the sheriff engaged Murphy in a heated sexual affair—including encounters inside the department’s HQ—and had asked her not to tell mistress Hoffman, whom he was also cheating on; and that Carona’s favorite phrases included “lie and deny” involving investigations. Mitigating factor: Had the bad judgment to sleep with the player with a badge.
3. DON HAIDL. From years of firsthand experience, the businessman-turned-assistant sheriff told jurors that Carona had created Jaramillo as “the bag man, the one who was supposed to insulate [the sheriff]” from controversy; described all the money and gifts he gave the two cops to win influence; and said that, with Carona’s blessing, he designed the reserve-deputy program as a thinly veiled way to increase the sheriff’s campaign-donor base. Mitigating factor: Faces sentencing for lying on his income-tax returns.
2. GABRIEL NASSAR. The colorful OC businessmen with a hunchback, pliable ethics and a pronounced fetish for all things cop, Nassar testified that Carona and Jaramillo paid him on a $100 bet after he’d promised he could illegally raise $25,000 for the sheriff’s 2002 re-election campaign if Carona would give five potential donors real OCSD badges. After Nassar succeeded, the county’s top cops wrote, “We will never doubt you again” on the $100 bill and even happily posed for photographs, which were shown to the jury. Mitigating factor: Nassar also had a close relationship with District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
1. MIKE CARONA. So far, the ex-sheriff has taken advantage of his Fifth Amendment rights and not testified, but the government introduced secret FBI recordings of Carona plotting with Haidl that unless there had been a “pinhole” camera in Haidl’s kitchen ceiling, the men would claim that no cash bribes had “ever, ever, ever, ever, ever” been received. Mitigating factor: Carona looks pretty sitting in the defendant’s seat.
*HONORABLE MENTION: FRANK MICKADEIT. In the past, the Orange County Register columnist has served as a Carona cheerleader, but in a Dec. 8 column, the impact of weeks of embarrassing testimony prompted him to coin this beauty of a line about Carona’s relationship with Jaramillo and Haidl: “The Axis of Arrogance had created a Pyramid of Public Corruption.”
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.