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Tough words on lost badges

August 16, 2008|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Sheriff's Department promised Friday that any special reserve deputies caught using their badges after reporting the credentials lost or stolen would be arrested and charged with filing false police reports and being in possession of stolen property.

The warning came after The Times reported that 42 business executives and other civilians appointed as Professional Services Responders by ex-sheriff Michael S. Carona had reported missing or lost badges and IDs, and as newly appointed Sheriff Sandra Hutchens followed through on her decision to recall all of the volunteers' shields.

Hutchens has summoned the more than 400 members of the program -- including some of the county's richest and most powerful residents -- to a mandatory meeting today to discuss her efforts to cleanse the program of cronyism and ensure that volunteers are purely interested in public service.

Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said volunteers who have reported or plan to report their badges missing or stolen should "tear up their homes" looking for the credentials, stressing that the department would not hesitate to file criminal charges against anyone who is later found to be lying.

To that end, Amormino said, the names of individuals who file lost or stolen property reports will be entered into a database along with their badge numbers. If those badges are later used by anyone, it can be flagged for investigation.

"We don't want badges ending up in the wrong hands," he said. "We're serious about this."

The list of Carona allies whose credentials have disappeared includes his chief political and legal advisor, Michael Schroeder, a well-known Republican operative who reported losing two badges.

Schroeder reported his first badge missing in January 2002, saying it might have been taken from his coat while he was at a barbershop, sheriff's officials said. He was issued a second badge, but after reporting in June 2007 that he had lost that one too, he was not issued a third.

Others on the list include developer Michael Harrah; father-son hotel developers Hadi and Paul Makarechian, who hosted a lavish fundraiser for Carona; Antonio Cagnolo, the owner of a popular Italian restaurant where Carona regularly held court; and Jeff Teller, operator of the swap meet at the Orange County Fair and Event Center, where Carona's wife is on the governing board.

Carona, who stepped down in January to focus on his upcoming federal corruption trial, has denied handing out badges as political favors. But former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl has told federal agents that the program was a fundraising tool and that badges could be bought.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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