Carona's Attorney Blasts Prosecutors in Closing

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Lawyers for a former Orange County sheriff blasted federal prosecutors Wednesday for failing to call one of his ex-assistants as a key witness in his corruption trial.

Michael Carona's attorney, Jeff Rawitz, told the jury during his closing arguments that prosecutors failed to call George Jaramillo, who cooperated in the government's investigation.

"The question is, if they really want to hold Mr. Carona criminally responsible ... why don't they call Mr. Jaramillo?" he said.

Jaramillo was fired by Carona in 2004 for misconduct and pleaded guilty to a tax violation in a plea deal. He has also served prison time on state charges of perjury and misuse of public funds.

The jury could get the case Thursday.

The media-savvy Carona was once considered a rising star in state GOP politics and was dubbed "America's sheriff" by CNN's Larry King in 2002 after vowing to hunt down a child abductor in a case that generated national headlines.

The government alleges the three-term sheriff accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the power of his office. He was indicted in October 2007 and retired as head of the nation's fifth-largest sheriff's department three months later.


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Prosecutors say Carona began his scheming in 1998, when he solicited the help of multimillionaire businessman Don Haidl to launder at least $30,000 in campaign contributions. Once elected, Carona rewarded Haidl with the post of assistant sheriff. Haidl received a car, gun, badge, "get-out-of-jail-free" card and control over a new reserve deputy program that allowed him to hand out badges to his friends, relatives and associates, the government alleges.

Rawitz told jurors it was Jaramillo and not Carona who collected bribes and kickbacks. He also said Jaramillo intervened on behalf of Haidl's teenage son when the youth was charged with a gang rape and pulled over on suspicion of marijuana possession without Carona's knowledge.

"They want you to make a leap on this and they're not willing to give you the bridge to do it," Rawitz said of the government's allegations that Carona was behind the interventions. "There was no preferential treatment."

Rawitz also questioned why the government didn't call several other witnesses, including a sheriff's deputy involved in the marijuana case.

Carona, 53, faces one count of conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud and two counts of witness tampering. Carona's mistress Debra Hoffman has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud. His wife, Deborah, is charged with a single count of conspiracy. The women will be tried separately from Carona.

Haidl eventually cooperated with the government and wore a wire to secretly record three conversations with Carona. He was the government's star witness and testified for 10 days as part of a plea deal.

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