A federal judge today denied former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona’s attempt at early release from a Colorado prison, where he’s serving a 5 1/2-year sentence for witness tampering. Carona, who started serving his sentence in January 2011, is due to be released from the federal prison in Littleton, Colo., on Nov. 8, 2015. The ex- lawman is at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood, where former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is serving time.
Carona’s attorneys filed a motion in November, arguing that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — Skilling v. United States — that narrowed the legal definition of kickbacks and bribes means that Carona was improperly sentenced by U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford. Guilford disagreed, ruling that Carona’s conviction based on government corruption was not affected by the high court’s decision.
Guilford “specifically made a factual finding in 2009 and today again makes such a finding that defendant’s crime involved instances of honest services fraud of the type that survived the Supreme Court’s limitation in Skilling,” the ruling said. Even if Carona was correct the judge still had the right to put the ex- sheriff behind bars for 5 1/2 years because the punishment focused on Carona’s “high position of trust as an elected law enforcement official, and his betrayal of that trust,” according to the ruling.
Carona attorneys Brian Sun and John Cline did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Carona, who was Orange County’s sheriff from 1999 to 2008, was convicted in January 2009 of trying to get former assistant sheriff Don Haidl to lie during a federal grand jury probe. Carona was acquitted at the time of other corruption-related federal charges.
Haidl, a wealthy Newport Beach businessman who died in December, avoided prison because he wore a wire when meeting with his boss and became the prosecution’s star witness in Carona’s trial. Carona’s other former assistant sheriff, George Jaramillo, had his corruption conviction overturned by a federal appellate panel based on the same U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Skilling case. Guilford had to modify Jaramillo’s sentence for his guilty pleas to income tax evasion and corruption charges. The judge again sentenced him to 27 months in prison and fined him $50,000, but had to retract his order that Jaramillo pay the county more than $362,000 in lost wages and retirement income that he won in a lawsuit against the county for being improperly fired by Carona.
Cline argued at a hearing on Monday that Guilford should re-sentence Carona as well, and base his punishment on “conflict of interest and receipt of unauthorized compensation” instead of bribery. That would reduce Carona’s sentence to somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 years behind bars, Cline said. Cline noted that while hearing oral arguments on Carona’s appeal, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge John Noonan referred to the bribery case against Carona as “vague.” Cline argued there’s no evidence that Carona and Haidl had a specific “quid pro quo” arrangement. Haidl testified that he paid Carona $1,000 monthly from September 1998 through July 2002, gave Carona a Sea-Ray boat and also gave the ex-sheriff’s girlfriend $65,000.
Guilford quizzed Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel on what Haidl received in return. Sagel said Haidl “bought his position” as assistant sheriff, which the judge noted paid no salary. Haidl, however, received a police car, a badge and “full police powers” without having to undergo the usual training required of a deputy, Sagel said. Sagel also noted that Carona had Jaramillo go to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to argue for leniency for Haidl’s son, Greg, who was later convicted of taking part in the gang rape of an unconscious 17-year-old girl.
Also, as Greg Haidl awaited trial, Carona also kept the younger Haidl’s pot bust off the public arrest logs, Guilford and Sagel agreed. Sagel referred to Haidl’s arrangement with Carona as a “stream of benefits bribery scheme.” Sagel argued that at sentencing, it was proper for Guilford to consider the underlying cause of the witness tampering, which was the alleged bribery scheme. Sagel further argued that Carona cannot even bring his motion for re- sentencing to court because he failed to follow the proper procedure for doing so in his appeal.
– City News Service
Register $tory: Judge upholds ex-Sheriff Carona’s sentence