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Carona: D.A. 'thinks I'm weak'

Tape transcripts reveal ex-O.C. sheriff thought Rackauckas wanted to 'take me out' through a jail beating inquiry.

July 15, 2008|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona thought Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas was trying to "take me out" and that their relationship had deteriorated into "one of those death spirals" after a special grand jury was impaneled last year to investigate the beating death of a jail inmate, according to court documents filed Monday.

Carona, speaking to former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl during a conversation secretly recorded by the federal government, said he would emerge unscathed from the investigation because he was the "most lethal" politician in Orange County, the court documents show.

"He just wants to take me out. He thinks I'm weak," Carona is quoted as telling Haidl, apparently unaware that his former assistant was wearing a wire and cooperating with federal authorities in a corruption investigation. "His attorneys in open court said . . . they believe there was a cover-up by the sheriff."

Snippets of the dialogue between the two men were made public Monday in a motion filed by federal prosecutors seeking to allow jurors to hear sexual and racial slurs Carona used during three recorded conversations with Haidl last year. The motion opposes efforts by Carona's attorneys to exclude the tapes from the case.

Federal prosecutors in their filing Monday said the jurors should be allowed to hear the rough language in the tapes.

"Defendant Carona chose his words; that he now regrets his word choice is not a basis to exclude," prosecutors argued in their filing.

The statements provide the first raw look at the relationship between the county's top two law enforcement officials, whose political alliance was cemented when both men came to power in 1998.

Carona stepped down in January after he -- along with his wife and his mistress -- was indicted on federal corruption charges.

Prosecutors said the conversation with Haidl took place in July 2007, three months before Carona was indicted and months after the district attorney's office convened a grand jury to investigate the 2006 death of Theo Lacy Jail inmate John Derek Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo computer technician who was being held on suspicion of possessing child pornography.

Carona: "[Rackauckas] thinks that I'm gonna get rolled up in some, you know, federal beef or something, and he's impaneled a second grand jury to go after my guys. . . ."

Haidl: "Is it that jail deal?"

Carona: "[Rackauckas] and I are in one, one of those death spirals. And I promise you on this one, I'm . . . going to [get] him good on this deal."

In April, transcripts from a grand jury investigation into Chamberlain's death were unsealed, showing he had been beaten to death by other inmates while a guard in a nearby station watched television and sent text messages to friends.

Those transcripts also said that members of the Sheriff's Department repeatedly hindered the investigation by lying, changing their stories and comparing notes even after being ordered not to by the grand jury. Carona refused to answer a single question, including whether he had been the county's sheriff the day Chamberlain was killed.

By the time the transcripts were unsealed, Carona had resigned as sheriff to focus on fighting the federal corruption case, and two of his assistant sheriffs, Jo Ann Galisky and Steve Bishop, had been forced out.

In one of his obscenity-laced rants to Haidl about Rackauckas, Carona said he was finished with politics and just wanted to clear his name amid all the negative newspaper reports and investigations swirling around his administration.

"Where I am right now, I am here because I need to clean up some [stuff]," Carona is quoted as saying in the tapes. "And I'm walking out the . . . door."

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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