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Carona's office had video gear

The matter is turned over to prosecutors. Ex-sheriff's lawyers say cameras were for security, had no audio.

May 24, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona equipped his office with high-tech equipment capable of secretly videotaping intruders and making it impossible for others to record conversations in his office, authorities said Friday.

Acting on a tip from Orange County's interim sheriff, federal agents Friday removed a hidden video recording system that Carona had installed in his office.

Carona had also installed devices in the ceiling and windows to block recordings by people wearing wires.

Lawyers for the former sheriff, who is awaiting trial on political corruption charges, said the cameras were a security precaution, contained no audio and would provide no evidence for prosecutors.

Interim Sheriff Jack Anderson said he told federal authorities about the discovery Thursday so they could determine whether it was relevant to Carona's upcoming trial.

"The matter has been turned over to the U.S. attorney's office, where they are working in conjunction with the FBI to further investigate the matter," Anderson said in a statement. "As it is under investigation, I cannot comment further."

Carona attorney Jeff Rawitz downplayed the significance of the recording system, saying the cameras were installed for security purposes and were monitored by Carona's dignitary protection unit.

Many senior members of Carona's staff were aware of the system, Rawitz said.

The Sheriff's Department installed the equipment because of concern about some thefts from Carona's office and because Carona's appointment as a special advisor to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security required him to keep national security documents in the office, Rawitz said.

The system was motion- activated and focused on Carona's desk and other locations that an intruder might target, Rawitz said. It was installed several years ago, he said.

"It was a security system consistent with what many companies use to monitor sensitive locations after hours. Mike did not operate the system, access the system and has never seen any of the videos recorded by the system. It was purely for security purposes," Rawitz said.

"It's surprising that Sheriff Anderson was unaware of its existence, but perhaps that's because he never occupied Sheriff Carona's office."

Anderson, who took over after Carona resigned in January, has not moved into Carona's office, saying it should be used only by the person appointed as Carona's successor. He found the equipment earlier this week, a source familiar with the matter said today.

Although federal authorities intend to inspect the equipment, Rawitz said, "I expect it to have no evidentiary value whatsoever."

Carona's security concerns were well-known. He traveled the United States with a team of armed plainclothes deputies who acted as bodyguards, wearing earpieces and referring to their boss as "Braveheart."

But one former member of his administration said Friday that he was unaware that Carona had installed a video recording system in his office.

"This is the first I ever heard about any kind of camera system," the former sheriff's official said, asking not to be identified. "That is incredibly surprising news to me that Mike would do that. What's more surprising is he would leave it there so Jack Anderson would find it."

A federal grand jury indicted Carona, his wife, Deborah, and former mistress Debra V. Hoffman in October. Carona is accused of misusing his office to enrich himself and others, including his wife and Hoffman. Carona left office in January to concentrate on his defense, appointing Anderson as his interim replacement.

Carona's trial is scheduled to start Aug. 26.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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