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California Briefing / SANTA ANA

Gift to wife allowed in Carona trial

October 16, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer

A federal judge said he would not stop prosecutors from presenting evidence that a millionaire businessman gave a $15,000 Cartier watch to the wife of former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, according to a ruling made public Wednesday.

Defense attorneys had argued that evidence about the watch should not be allowed at Carona's upcoming corruption trial because California law does not prohibit spouses of public officials from accepting expensive gifts. They said evidence about the watch would unfairly confuse and prejudice the jury.

Federal prosecutors countered that Hank Asher, the businessman who gave Deborah Carona the watch, had a contract to sell data to the Sheriff's Department, so the gift supported allegations that the then-sheriff conspired to exchange his power for tens of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts and trips.

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford said in his ruling that the gift might be relevant and that he would not, at this point, prohibit prosecutors from introducing it at trial. He said defense attorneys could raise the point again during the trial. Carona, who resigned from office in January and has pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 28.

-- Stuart Pfeifer

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