By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
The county's top cop and prosecutor know more than they're saying about Sheriff Mike Carona's role in a scandal involving his former top assistant, according to sealed prosecution records obtained by OCWeekly.
Carona, who recently announced his 2006 re-election plans, has repeatedly said he was clueless about the financial relationship between George Jaramillo and CHG Safety Technologies Inc., a company owned by colorful convicted felon Charles Gabbard of Newport Beach. Once Carona's best friend, campaign manager and closest adviser, the former assistant sheriff now faces six felony charges involving misappropriating public money and conflicts of interest between 2000 and 2002. The Orange County district attorney's (OCDA) office claims that Erica Hill, Jaramillo's sister-in-law, was an accomplice in a scheme to use sheriff's department resources to aid CHG, which marketed laser technology it claimed could safely end police pursuits. While acknowledging financial ties to Gabbard, Jaramillo and Hill deny wrongdoing.
Carona, who dreamed of running for lieutenant governor on Arnold Schwarzenegger's ticket, has worked to distance himself from Jaramillo, whom he fired in March 2004, days after the Weeklyrevealed the assistant sheriff's relationship with CHG. In public statements, the sheriff has talked about his respect for justice and his abhorrence of corruption, and he promised his full cooperation in criminal investigations.
But the newly obtained records show that:
•Carona's department attempted to sabotage a 10-month District Attorney's Bureau of Investigation probe into the relationship between CHG, the sheriff and some of his deputies by repeatedly failing to disclose key records.
•During an Oct. 25, 1999, lunch at the Bowers Museum café in Santa Ana, Carona met with Bob Levy, a lobbyist who helped CHG funnel tens of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions into the sheriff's campaign committee.
•Carona claimed he couldn't remember details of a follow-up Jan. 17, 2000, meeting with Levy, but he did acknowledge he knew the lobbyist worked for Gabbard and CHG.
•Carona admitted he might have written a CHG product endorsement on sheriff's department letterhead after (unwittingly, he says) receiving the illegal contributions, but he insisted someone faked his signature on the document sent to the California Legislature as it considered requiring Gabbard's device on all vehicles in the state.
•Although he claimed he had nothing further to do with CHG after the company's second illegal fund-raiser for the sheriff in May 2000, DA investigators discovered that Carona wore his official uniform to pitch CHG's product on MSNBC three months later.
•Assistant Sheriff Pete Gannon claimed he had reason to believe Carona supported the CHG product demonstrations using department resources because Gannon knew about the "close relationship" between Jaramillo and Carona and that he'd witnessed "Gabbard inside a sheriff's department meeting with Jaramillo and Carona."
This new information is contained in an Aug. 2, 2004, DA search-warrant affidavit filed before raids on houses belonging to Jaramillo and Hill.
Revelations in the search warrant are bad news for DA Tony Rackauckas, too. Just one month after DA Investigator Dina Mauger filed her affidavit, Rackauckas arrested Jaramillo and Hill but publicly cleared Carona. He told reporters Jaramillo was the mastermind of the scheme, that Carona had "fully cooperated" in the investigation and that he'd uncovered "no evidence" linking the sheriff to any wrongdoing.
The DA's affidavit also revealed that:
•Less than a month after Carona fired Jaramillo, the former assistant sheriff launched Global Solutions Consulting in Santa Ana on April 12, 2004. The company sells global-positioning satellite systems, and basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal is among its customers.
•Despite Rackauckas' claim that Jaramillo's alleged use of deputies for CHG demonstrations "jeopardized public safety," DA investigators discovered the events "did not take deputies away from patrolling the county."
•Lobbyist Levy claimed Jaramillo originally was so excited about Gabbard's laser-gun technology that the then-assistant sheriff promised to invest $100,000 to $200,000 in the company, but later unsuccessfully bid to trade consulting work for stock.
•Gabbard, though fuzzy on details, believed a greedy and temperamental Jaramillo planned from the outset to take over his company after receiving a $15,000 consulting contract and learning proprietary information.
•Newport Beach Mayor Steve Bromberg, who participated in the illegal campaign-contributions scheme to Carona, worked as a close adviser to Gabbard and was responsible for an unsuccessful plan to give two Irvine cops $600,000 worth of CHG stock in exchange for their glowing product endorsement in media presentations.
The Weeklyoriginally requested access to the search warrant in January. Behind-the-scenes bickering stalled a decision for the past three months, during which time The Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times joined in the request. Judge John Conley ruled on April 20 that a majority of the search warrant would be publicly disclosed.