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Former O.C. sheriff seeks to cut prison term

Lawyers say the 66-month sentence should be adjusted due to changes in law.

November 17, 2012|Rick Rojas
  • Former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona says the judge erred in sentencing him to 66 months in prison.
Former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona says the judge erred in sentencing… (Los Angeles Times )

Attorneys for former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona -- who is now serving 66 months in federal prison for witness tampering -- are asking that the former lawman's sentence be cut by nearly half, potentially freeing him.

In a motion, Carona's attorneys argued that the sentence handed down in 2009 by U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford should be adjusted after changes in the law.

His attorneys contend that the judge sentenced Carona on the witness tampering charge by "cross-referencing" charges on which he was acquitted, a practice his attorneys argue that the U.S. Supreme Court overruled in a case involving former Enron President Jeffrey Skilling.

"Carona seeks relief on the ground that the court erred in determining his sentence by using honest services fraud as the 'underlying offense' under United States sentencing guidelines," his lawyers wrote in the motion filed earlier this month. They added that "the conduct at issue did not constitute honest services fraud or any other federal offense."

His lawyers, according to the motion, are seeking to reduce his time to a term of 24 months to 30 months.

Brett Sagel, the federal prosecutor on the case, said in an emailed statement Thursday that the government contends "Carona's filing lacks merit both factually and legally."

Carona was acquitted in 2009 on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and one count of witness tampering.

But the jury found him guilty on another count of witness tampering after he was recorded as he tried to persuade his former assistant sheriff to lie to a grand jury investigating allegations of corruption.

Carona, 57, was widely considered to be a rising political star at the time of his indictment.

The former sheriff began serving his 51/2 -year prison sentence in January 2011 at Englewood Federal Correctional Institution in Littleton, Colo., where he joined other prominent criminals -- including Skilling and disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

When Carona's sentence began, officials at the prison said the former sheriff would put in 71/2-hour days doing landscaping, plumbing, painting or food service.

But he could have access to the low-security prison's amenities, including college courses and the use of indoor and outdoor recreational facilities.

Carona's lawyers said that he had exhausted his appeals when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction shortly before he reported to the prison.

--

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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