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Carona allegedly spoke of keeping files from officials

May 30, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer and Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona talked to a former top assistant about "cleansing" the department's reserve-deputy files of information he did not want federal prosecutors to find, the government alleges in a court filing Thursday.

The filing came in response to U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford's request that prosecutors provide more specific details about one of the witness-tampering charges in Carona's upcoming corruption trial.

The court filing alleges Carona and former Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl discussed doctoring files from the department's reserve program.

Carona was indicted in October on charges he sold access to his office for cash and gifts and that he tampered with potential witnesses. He has pleaded not guilty and vowed to prove his innocence at trial.

Haidl, who oversaw the reserve program, is expected to be a witness against Carona at his trial, now scheduled for Aug. 26.

Soon after taking office in 1999, Carona appointed scores of campaign donors as reserve deputies, issuing them badges and in some cases guns without background checks or training. The appointments escaped public scrutiny until 2005, when a Los Angeles Times article raised questions about whether Carona was handing out badges as political favors -- an allegation he steadfastly denied.

Over the years, several reserves with close ties to Carona have gotten caught misusing their credentials. In one of the most serious, Carona's longtime martial arts instructor was accused of flashing a gun and badge at members of a foursome playing ahead of him on a San Bernardino golf course. Raymond Yi was convicted earlier this month of making a criminal threat. He faces a potential sentence of up to three years in prison.

During the lengthy investigation of Carona's administration, federal authorities served the Sheriff's Department with a subpoena asking for original copies of all reserve records on file, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the request.

Federal prosecutors did not address in their filing whether Carona and Haidl actually tampered with the department's reserve program records, only that they discussed it. According to prosecutors, from March 17, 2004, through Aug. 13, 2007, Carona urged Haidl and others to "fabricate and conceal facts" from a federal grand jury.

The former sheriff's goal was to "keep the focus of the federal grand jury investigation off defendant Carona."

In addition, the documents allege, Carona encouraged Haidl to mislead the grand jury about "money, bribes and gifts," that Haidl allegedly provided to Carona.

Haidl, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges, secretly recorded conversations with Carona three times in the months leading to the sheriff's indictment, according to prosecutors.

Carona's attorney, Jeffrey Rawitz, said Haidl's credibility is in question because his sentence on the tax evasion charges will be based in part on his testimony at the Carona trial.

"Mr. Haidl has pleaded guilty and is facing significant prison time for his own criminal conduct. He's doing everything he can to reduce his sentence," Rawitz said. "Whether he's a credible witness will be a question for the jury to decide."

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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