Tales of Shady Fundraising Emerge in Carona Trial

Haidl says Carona didn't care where money came from

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A former confidant of ex-Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona told jurors Wednesday that, when he first met the would-be sheriff in March 1998, one of Carona's top deputies told him the campaign needed $30,000, but it would have be disguised to avoid contribution limits.

Don Haidl, who Carona later named an assistant sheriff, even though the multi-millionaire businessman had no law enforcement experience, testified that he met Carona and his right-hand man, George Jaramillo, at the same fundraiser.

Carona is charged in a wide-ranging public corruption case that accuses him of selling out his office.

At the March 1998 fundraiser, Jaramillo zeroed in on Haidl and "immediately began pitching me," he testified.

When Jaramillo brought up the need for $30,000, Carona "was right there to the right," Haidl testified.

Haidl said he saw Jaramillo and Carona within a few days of their initial meeting, because he agreed to support the campaign.

Haidl said Carona and Jaramillo told him that campaign checks needed to be made out for $1,000 or less to get around contribution limits.

"They didn't care where (the checks) came from, just that it couldn't be for more (than $1,000)," Haidl said.

Haidl, under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel, said his role was to "round up the checks, but I had to reimburse a number of people."

"When you met with Carona and Jaramillo in early 1998, how long (did it take) to talk about campaign contributions?" Sagel asked.

"Right away," Haidl said.

Sagel asked how long it took to talk about the reimbursement requirements, and Haidl replied, "Right away."

Haidl testified he was told any reimbursements had to be in cash "so that it was untraceable."

Haidl pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion in March 2007 and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in the Carona probe. He made his fortune auctioning cars.

Haidl, who moved to Orange County in 1997, had lived in San Bernardino County and helped raise money for the sheriff there. Haidl first met Carona's rival, Santa Ana police Chief Paul Walters, but later decided to back Carona.

"I was very, very impressed," Haidl said, calling Carona "an unbelievable speaker."

"He was a charmer," he said.

Jaramillo pleaded guilty in March 2007 to federal tax charges and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

"He struck me more as a salesman," Haidl said of Jamamillo. "I'm not sure how to put it."

Together, Jaramillo and Carona "were amazing," Haidl said. "They were a magical team. The two of these guys were good. I referred to them as the preacher and the pick-pocket."

When prompted by Sagel, Haidl said he thought of Carona as the "preacher."

Haidl testified that he met with Carona and Neil McAllister, a reserve deputy in the sheriff's department.

Haidl said that McAllister and Tim Simon, an assistant sheriff at the time, did not get along.

"There were bad feelings between them," Haidl said.

McAllister asked Carona if he would get rid of Simon in exchange for his support in the election, Haidl said, adding that Carona replied: "He's gone."

Carona, 53, his 57-year-old wife Deborah, and his longtime mistress, Debra Hoffman, 42, are charged with conspiracy in the federal corruption case. Carona and Hoffman also face four counts of mail fraud, and Carona is charged with two counts of witness tampering. Hoffman is charged with three counts of bankruptcy fraud.

Deborah Carona is being tried separately.

They are accused of accepting gifts and hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of it from Haidl, in exchange for providing access to the perks and power of the department.

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