Carona Mistress to be Tried Separately

SANTA ANA, Calif. - An attorney and longtime mistress of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona won her bid today to be tried separately from Carona on corruption charges, even though the pair have already been on trial jointly for seven weeks.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford declared a mistrial in Debra Hoffman's case, and said she would be tried separately at a later date.

Carona's trial will continue with the former sheriff as the sole defendant.Attorneys argued this morning that incriminating statements made by both Carona and Hoffman against each other have been introduced during the trial, and should neither testify, their respective lawyers would not be able to cross-examine them about the statements.

Hoffman and Carona, along with Carona's wife, Deborah, are accused in a 10-count federal grand jury indictment of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts in exchange for the perks and powers of the sheriff's department.

Deborah Carona, charged only with the conspiracy count, will be tried separately.

Federal Public Defender Sylvia Torres-Guillen, who represents Hoffman, told Guilford that she would oppose her client being tried with Deborah Carona because "there was no connection between Hoffman and Miss Carona with respect to conspiracy."

Torres-Guillen said she would ask that the conspiracy charge against Hoffman -- an attorney who also faces bankruptcy fraud charges -- be dismissed, arguing that evidence allegedly tying Hoffman to a conspiracy is "so weak against Miss Hoffman."

Guilford said it would be unfair for Torres-Guillen to ask for dismissal of the conspiracy charge at this point. He said she should have asked for severance at an earlier stage.

At one point, Guilford asked Carona's wife, who has been attending her husband's trial every day, if she could contact her attorney, David Wiechert.

Deborah Carona said she would call him, then told the judge, "I'd be very happy if they'd move to dismiss my case at this point."

She indicated that prosecutors had offered her a deal prior to her being charged, and that had she taken it and testified against her husband, the expected sentence would be one of diversion.

During testimony by Peggy Haidl, the sister of the prosecution's key witness, former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl, the attorneys objected to evidence or statements that would implicate both Carona and Hoffman.

Peggy Haidl testified that she also wore a wire to secretly record her conversations with Deborah Carona in July 2007, as did her brother, whose secret recordings of three conversations with Carona are key evidence at trial.

Peggy Haidl admitted that she served as a campaign contribution conduit by helping her brother illegally fund Carona's 1998 campaign for sheriff.

Don Haidl, a multimillionaire businessman, testified earlier that he essentially bought his post in the Sheriff's Department by funding the campaign and lavishing cash and gifts on Carona and former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo.

Peggy Haidl testified that she solicited people to write $1,000 checks to Carona's campaign, then used Don Haidl's money, some of which she kept in a safe in her home -- to reimburse the donors.

During cross-examination, Carona attorney Jeffrey Rawitz asked if one of the people she solicited was her and her brother's own mother. He asked if Peggy Haidl explained to her mother that she was asking her to do something illegal.

"I just didn't feel the need to tell her," Peggy Haidl said.

The witness also said she, at the request of Jaramillo, also solicited checks from other people to go into the campaigns of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, and that she personally wrote a check for a judge. All the contributors were reimbursed, without their knowledge, with Don Haidl's money, according to the testimony.

Prosecutors indicated during the trial that they might rest their case next week.

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