Orange County's top prosecutor testified Friday that ex-Sheriff Mike Carona's top assistant threatened his political future if he aggressively prosecuted the son of another assistant sheriff in a sexual assault case.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was called by the defense in Carona's public corruption trial in an effort to show that his two assistants, who cooperated with investigators, were actually disgruntled employees trying to get back at the sheriff.
He testified that former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo asked him several times not to charge 17-year-old Greg Haidl -- the son of former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl -- as an adult, and continued to do so even after Rackauckas asked Carona to make him stop.
Testimony concluded Friday morning. Closing arguments will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 6. The trial will be in recess until then.
Rackauckas said that during one encounter after a law enforcement meeting in Fullerton, Jaramillo approached him in a parking lot and told him that Don Haidl could throw $4 million into the campaign of a rival if Rackauckas didn't go easy on the teen, who was accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated girl on a pool table and videotaping the assault.
The prosecution's case against Carona rests heavily on testimony by Don Haidl that he paid the former sheriff hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and illegal campaign contributions in exchange for his position as an assistant sheriff -- even though he had no background in law enforcement -- with ready access to the perks and powers of the office, including a so-called get-out-of-jail-free card.
Rackauckas testified that Jaramillo, in full sheriff's uniform, came to Rackauckas' office in July 2002, the same month that Greg Haidl was first accused, along with two other teens, of sexually assaulting an unconscious 16-year-old girl.
Jaramillo wanted prosecutors to charge Greg Haidl as a juvenile and cast the alleged victim in a bad light.
Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel if Jaramillo appeared to have been there in an official capacity, Rackauckas said, "He seemed to be."
"He's there," Rackauckas said. "He's the No. 2 person in the sheriff's department and he's imploring me to act in a particular way in a criminal case."
Rackauckas said he went to Carona to report the approach but did not give Carona all the details of the conversation with Jaramillo.
Rackauckas said that Carona agreed to stop Jaramillo and agreed that the sheriff's department should have nothing to do with the case.
But Jaramillo continued to approach him, he said.
Carona's promise "didn't hold up," Rackauckas said, adding that Jaramillo's actions "were not affected."
Asked by defense attorney Jeff Rawitz if one explanation could be that Carona could not control Jaramillo's conduct, Rackauckas said, "That could be one."
Prosecutor Sagel pressed Rackauckas to describe the relationship between Carona and Jaramillo.
He asked if Rackauckas understood Jaramillo to be Carona's "mouthpiece" or if he had ever heard the men refer to each other as "brothers," or whether they appeared to be "buddies."
"They appeared to be good friends," Rackauckas said.
Asked if he was aware that Carona at some point fired Jaramillo, he said he was.
Carona is charged in a 10-count federal indictment with conspiracy and witness tampering for allegedly trying to dissuade Don Haidl from testifying against him.
The elder Haidl began cooperating with federal investigators and wore a wire in three meetings with Carona. The tape recordings are considered key evidence in the prosecution's case.
Jaramillo also cooperated with investigators in exchange for a plea deal, but he has not been called to testify.
Defense attorneys have tried to chip away at Haidl's veracity, including whether he really got the get-out-of-jail-free card in exchange for gifts and cash.
Rackauckas said he pursued the case against Greg Haidl because the girl was videotaped while being penetrated with various objects, such as a pool cue and Snapple bottle, which was "not acceptable in civilized society."
Rackauckas said taking a lighter approach to the case, such as dismissing charges when the first trial resulted in a jury deadlock, would signal a "boys will be boys" attitude.
"We don't accept this behavior and we punish it."
Greg Haidl was convicted in the second trial and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released earlier this year.