Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to impose a nine-year prison sentence and $125,000 fine against former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona for leaning on his assistant to lie to a grand jury that was investigating the administration of the state's second-largest sheriff's agency.
In a legal brief filed Friday, the government argued that witness tampering is a serious crime, especially by a sitting sheriff, and said Carona has yet to take any responsibility or show any remorse for obstructing the investigation into his alleged corrupt activities.
"Our entire criminal justice system is premised on the belief that the public -- and the judicial system which relies heavily on truthful statements of law enforcement -- can trust that the actions and statements of law enforcement officers are truthful, legal and ethical," the court papers say. "In this case, defendant was not merely a law enforcement officer, he was the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in Orange County."
After a two-month trial, Carona was acquitted in January of five felony charges related to broad allegations that he misused the powers of his office in a scramble for cash and gifts for himself and others, including his wife and a mistress.
Carona called the acquittals an "absolute miracle" and said he felt "beyond vindicated" by the jury's decision. Jurors, however, said that they believed Carona had accepted cash and gifts but that they were hindered by a statute of limitations that prevented them from considering most of the alleged transgressions.
Carona is scheduled to be sentenced on the witness tampering count, a felony that stems from his attempts during an August 2007 meeting to have former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl lie to the grand jury. The meeting was secretly recorded by the government, with Haidl's help.
Federal probation officers, in a pre-sentencing report issued last month, recommended that Carona serve 6 1/2 years in prison and pay a $65,000 fine.
In calculating the proposed punishment, they weighed the underlying allegations about the cash and gifts, including thousands of dollars in bribes from Haidl, even though Carona was acquitted of related charges.
Carona's defense team, in its own legal brief filed Friday, challenged the probation department's analysis of the case, arguing that it is flawed because, among other things, the government failed to prove Carona was part of any conspiracy to enrich himself. The attorneys, Brian A. Sun and Jeffrey Rawitz, are seeking probation for him. They argue that under federal guidelines, Carona should face no more than 21 months in prison.