Who Shot the Sheriff?

Star witness against ex-Assistant Sheriff Jaramillo is tanking, evidence reveals mischief by Sheriff Carona

News of the charges dominated all seven Los Angeles-OC television newscasts. Video captured Rackauckas spelling out the crimes: "Mr. Jaramillo diverted sheriff's deputies, patrol cars and county equipment away from protecting the community and used them to market [Charlie Gabbard's] products." In the days before he filed the charges, Rackauckas returned a four-year-old $1,000 contribution from Gabbard.

* * *

As second in command at the sheriff's department for five-plus years, Jaramillo served as Carona's hatchet man—the guy who'd occasionally bully staff, reporters and outsiders so that the sheriff could get his way while maintaining his carefree Andy Griffith persona. Critics say Jaramillo is an egomaniac with questionable impulses. Fans say Jaramillo—who declined to be interviewed for this story—is a loyal friend as well as a brilliant, tireless worker who put himself through law school while he worked as a Garden Grove cop. Most agree, however, that Jaramillo loves to multitask, which might have contributed to his downfall.

Jaramillo


After Carona introduced Gabbard to Jaramillo at the El Toro demonstration, the assistant sheriff saw the chance to participate further in helping end the seemingly endless number of high-speed police pursuits that often air on LA newscasts. He also understood that the potential financial windfall would be great for those connected to HALT.

During a lunch meeting at Antonello's restaurant in Santa Ana, Jaramillo gave Gabbard free advice on how to market his product. On Aug. 30 and Sept. 30, 2000, the sheriff's department and CHG held additional HALT demonstrations for the media, including one aired on America'sMostWanted.

The more Jaramillo learned about CHG, the more he understood that Gabbard lacked management experience, an opinion shared by numerous bankers who considered but rejected loans to the business. In October 2000, the assistant sheriff encouraged Gabbard to hire Erica Hill, his sister-in-law. Hill—whom Gabbard described as exceptionally organized—found a company in disarray and an owner desperate for guidance. Hill's salary was set at $60,000 per year, and she soon ran the office as Gabbard's health deteriorated.

On Nov. 3, 2000, Gabbard signed a management-consulting agreement with Jaramillo. For one year's worth of part-time work, CHG would pay the assistant sheriff $15,000. Gabbard hoped to use Jaramillo's law-enforcement contacts, sales ability, legal expertise and bilingual skills—especially with the hope of marketing HALT overseas. The consulting deal spelled out that Jaramillo would not use any county resources to assist CHG.

Three days later, Jaramillo received a county counsel opinion on his deal with CHG. Deputy County Counsel Barbara Stocker essentially told Jaramillo that the pact was okay if the work was permitted by the department's policies and if the income was reported to proper authorities. She cautioned that he "would be disqualified from participating in any dealings between the company" and the county.

Stocker's memo won't help the DA convince a jury that Jaramillo was up to no good: his CHG contract was permitted by his department's policies, he reported the consulting income and the source on public disclosure forms (where the Weeklyoriginally found the revelation in March 2004) and to the IRS as well as paid taxes on it, and he didn't need to disqualify himself from any fees because the HALT System was never seriously considered for purchase by the county.

Even though Carona saw his best friend daily at the office and had occasional contact with Gabbard and Hill, the sheriff claims he had no idea that Jaramillo had the yearlong consulting gig. It's a difficult assertion to believe. County records reviewed by the Weeklyshow that the assistant sheriff submitted a vacation leave request in early 2001 in order to travel on his own time for CHG. That trip—to visit police departments in Chicago and New York City as well as the White House—was the beginning of the end of Jaramillo's relationship with CHG. The assistant sheriff discovered Gabbard's dirty secret.

In March 2001, Jaramillo met Gabbard at Costa Mesa's Mimi's Café to confront him about his criminal record. The assistant sheriff, who had aspirations to follow Carona as sheriff, said he could not be part of an organization run by a convicted felon whose rap sheet included murder. He suggested Gabbard sell his share of the company and leave. Gabbard said "never." Law-enforcement sources say they parted on unfriendly terms.

It's unclear how the DA will explain what happened next. Despite the break in the consulting arrangement and the fact that CHG never paid Jaramillo another dollar, the company and the sheriff's department held three more media demonstrations for HALT. For example, prosecutors allege that Jaramillo committed a felony by organizing a demonstration on April 8, 2002—more than 14 months after his last CHG paycheck. The assistant sheriff wasn't even in the state at the time. Sheriff Carona had sent him to a two-day "Citizen's Corps Council" meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee. According to flight records obtained by the Weekly, Jaramillo arrived in Orange County at 9:45 p.m.—long after the demonstration had been completed. Nevertheless, the DA's office alleges Jaramillo and Hill solely masterminded a scam to misappropriate public resources (such as a police cruiser and staff time) for private gain.

But there's another, perhaps more plausible explanation. The fact that there were HALT-OC Sheriff's Department demonstrations before, during and after the CHG-Jaramillo consulting arrangement suggests the acts were not necessarily connected. It was, after all, Jaramillo's job to get favorable publicity for the department, and HALT events were simply irresistible to TV news producers across the country. Time and again, news segments featured a proactive OC Sheriff's Department working hard to solve the police-pursuit problem.

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