Internal Affairs

Ex-Orange County assistant sheriff George Jaramillo pleaded no contest Monday to two felonies and agreed to a year in jail. Here is a story from our archives about how Sheriff Mike Carona and his top deputy planned a dynasty

All the controversy has inspired Sheriff's Lieutenant Bill Hunt, the chief of police in San Clemente, to consider running against Carona in '06. As the incumbent, Carona will likely receive massive financial support from the county's corporate community and GOP bigwigs. The underdog role doesn't seem to bother Hunt, who has 24 years' law-enforcement experience. He recently told KUCI host Cameron Jackson that he's determined to bring honest leadership to the sheriff's department.

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If Jaramillo has flammable material on Carona, it will likely include adultery allegations. The rumors were first chronicled after DA detective Dina Mauger interviewed Jaramillo's sister-in-law, Hill, in May 2004. Investigating CHG's illegal contributions to the sheriff, Mauger asked Hill if Carona had a sexual relationship with one of his advisers.

"Oh, yeah, absolutely," said Hill. "Everybody saw them together. They don't hide it. It's so ridiculous."

Jaramillo refuses to talk on the record about Carona's alleged affair. The woman, whom the Weeklychooses not to identify, laughed off the rumor, saying unequivocally that she is not intimate with the sheriff.

"If you've ever seen DamienOmenII,the evil kid in that movie is George," she joked. More solemnly, she added: "George is sinking and he's desperate to drag everyone down with him. It's really sad."

Carona calls the affair assertion part of the "Jaramillo 10 percent rule. . . There's often 10 percent truth in what George says. Yes, I know [the woman]. Yes, we traveled with two other people in the department helicopter once on official business. Yes, I talk to her. She's one of my advisers, but the rest is George's imagination."

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An immigrant from Ecuador, Jaramillo nowadays says he's been singled-out for prosecution and public humiliation, in part, due to racism. He recalls the pressure of being the only minority in a room of white male cops. If he was going to rise to the top of law enforcement, he thought he needed to always dress, speak and perform better than anyone else. Jaramillo supporters say this drive made the assistant sheriff a threat to Carona.

"George was screwed by Mike Carona," said one longtime Jaramillo ally. "The bottom line is that the sheriff was afraid George would take his job. This is all about positioning for power."

Jaramillo agrees that he's been victimized, but shows no anger. He says he's trying to move on with his life. His attitude is mostly optimistic, although he's occasionally exasperated. He likes to talk about his family, his faith and AmericanIdol.He's working another job that he won't discuss. His family still loves and supports him, but his future is questionable. He's facing prison if convicted.

"I don't care what anyone says," says Joseph G. Cavallo, Jaramillo's lawyer. "George Jaramillo would have been an outstanding sheriff. The guy is brilliant."

It wasn't supposed to end this way. Carona and Jaramillo had traveled together as official dignitaries to places as far away as Moscow and Helsinki. They'd dreamed they were unbeatable.

But if Carona had been paying attention, there was a clue that a nightmare loomed. In October 2002, Jaramillo made arrangements for the men to attend a "Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children" conference in Washington, D.C. He'd reserved rooms in the ritzy Sofitel hotel, an apparently fitting choice given their status as national heroes for arresting Alejandro Avila in the kidnapping, rape and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

One other detail stood out. After landing at Washington's Dulles airport, the sheriff and his deputy looked for their hired chauffeur and limousine. The driver had been given a special instruction for the $130 ride, according to records obtained by the Weekly.He held a placard that said, "Jaramillo & Carona."

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I'd cornered Jaramillo inside Orange County's central courthouse after a pretrial hearing in March. On this day, the 44-year-old was frustrated with delays in his case. A trial is likely to begin in October. He said he's anxious for vindication. He doubted the DA can find 12 jurors who'll want to send him—"a man with a spotless record"—to prison.

A prosecutor not assigned to his case recognized Jaramillo in the hallway and walked over. "George, good to see you!" the man said as he patted Jaramillo's back. "Hang in there."

Jaramillo smiled and told me, "That was classy, wasn't it?"

Minutes later, a deputy walked by. They exchange pleasantries. After the officer leaves, Jaramillo said, "That guy's got a beautiful wife."

Five minutes later, two more deputies approach. They each vigorously shook the former assistant sheriff's hand. One said, "Don't let the bastards get you."

Jaramillo nodded his head in appreciation, but was momentarily speechless. Was he trying to remember their names? Was he dreaming about lost power over 4,000 employees and a half-billion-dollar annual budget? Or was he genuinely touched by their humanity?

"Hey, fellas, thanks," he finally said. "Just keep up the good work. Don't worry about me. I'm going to be fine. Trust me."


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