By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
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
This is a story about a famous LA porn star, a suspicious detective and a frustrated Orange County sheriff. It's also a story about ex-Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, who is—by his own reckoning—a devoted family man, a hard-working immigrant, and a Mormon who doesn't drink alcohol or smoke. He is, he says, a "genuinely nice guy who has never done anything wrong." And sure enough, if you hang around Jaramillo, you'll see an often polite, always confident man who appears benevolent.
Jaramillo's self-proclaimed innocence prompts laughter among cops who worked with him before he was fired, arrested and indicted on six felony corruption charges last year. These officers say the former second in command at the $500-million-a-year sheriff's department is driven by greed and lust, and is all the more dangerous because he can be disarmingly charming.
But if Jaramillo had severe character flaws, it was a minor one—tightfistedness—that may have begun his undoing.
* * *
Bud Hood is a veteran cop who has worked everything from auto thefts to dignitary protection. Hood was one of the first deputies to join Mike Carona's 1998 campaign for sheriff. That's how he met Jaramillo, a former Garden Grove cop who handled the Carona campaign's media and fund-raising. After the election, Carona rewarded Jaramillo and his campaign financier, Don Haidl, with two of the five jobs as assistant sheriff.
Many rank-and-file deputies were not impressed. Carona's move broke 52 years of department protocol, under which neither Jaramillo nor Haidl was qualified. While Haidl—a millionaire used-car salesman—worked only part time with the sheriff's reserves, Jaramillo found himself inside an initially hostile agency. He needed allies and turned to Hood, among a few others, for official as well as personal assignments.
According to grand jury records reviewed by the Weekly,Jaramillo frequently gave Hood film to develop. The film contained nude pictures of dozens of women, including the assistant sheriff's wife, sister-in-law, several secretaries and at least one county employee. Most of the shots were soft-porn, topless poses. Some were taken at police conventions or in Las Vegas. Hood and other sheriff's department employees told investigators Jaramillo put the pictures in a thick photo album, shared his sex encyclopedia at the office and identified the women as his conquests.
The grand jury also heard that the assistant sheriff, whose salary topped $135,000 annually, was a legendary cheapskate. Not only was Jaramillo bold enough to openly celebrate his adultery, he allegedly stuck Hood with the costs of developing the film from his escapades. In 2001, several deputies refused Jaramillo's request that they rent a San Diego hotel room so that he could have a three-way sex romp. The deputies were sure they'd never be repaid.
What bothered Hood most wasn't the film costs, the adultery or the porn. He witnessed Jaramillo badmouth Carona behind his back, steal credit for the sheriff's successes and brag about taking over the department. Hood, a 27-year-veteran cop, thought the assistant sheriff was destined to sabotage Carona.
"George began to show a persona that was a disloyal demon, almost," said Hood. "You know, I don't know how else to categorize it. But it's not normal for people to show you nude pictures of their wife."
The deputy shared his concerns with the sheriff in a private 1999 meeting. Carona thanked Hood but said he thought Jaramillo's office missteps were correctable with training. Four years later, Hood's view hadn't changed. In July 2004, he told the grand jury that Jaramillo was simply a "corrupt individual."
During conversations with Jaramillo, it's easy to see his mind race from subject to subject. He's funny and opinionated and loves challenges. He talks as if he's invincible. But for four years he made a terrible error. He mistook Hood as either a fan or an imbecile.
Jaramillo was clueless that the man in whom he'd confided kept mental notes; that the man he'd asked to fix his home computer for free had installed a program to save all deleted files in case there was ever an investigation; and that the man he'd asked to establish a secret cell phone account had kept detailed records of calls and would someday give that log to inquiring FBI agents.
"You can't trust anybody," says Jaramillo.
Hood likely agrees. He got stuck paying the assistant sheriff's film costs. And then, he says, Jaramillo stiffed him on more than $800 in cell phone bills.
* * *
Jaramillo play thing?
A beautiful Canadian-born blonde with incredible curves and an intoxicating smile, Amanda Friedland is an internationally famous porn star. Grand jury records say Friedland uses the stage name of Shyla Stylez. She lives in LA and was once married to one of the biggest adult-film producers in the nation. Among her 40-plus films are Big Tit Bust Out, Anal Addicts, Dumb Blonde, My Perfect 10's Again, Semen Biscuit, Humping 9 to 5, Make a Beeline for My Behind, Pussy Licking Good and Tit's a Wonderful Life.
Under oath, Hood told the grand jury and investigators that Jaramillo had bragged about several trysts with the porn star. "I believe it was his birthday and he was going out for a full day with her while he was on duty," said Hood, who declined to be interviewed for this story.
Indeed, FBI agents have records of Jaramillo's calls to Friedland's phone in August and September 2003. For example, on August 5, 2003, Jaramillo repeatedly called the porn star in the morning as he drove to LA and then phoned two hotels, according to the records. During one seven-minute period that day, the assistant sheriff called the woman seven times.
In a brief interview with the Weekly,Friedland knew of Jaramillo but said she was unaware of a grand jury investigation. "I'm not going to confirm anything about anything," she said. "You've caught me off-guard."
Jaramillo denies an affair.
But it wasn't just a porn star linked to the assistant sheriff. He allegedly looked for sexual gratification in public places. In 1999—not long after Carona-Jaramillo took over the sheriff's department—an undercover narcotics deputy observed Jaramillo "getting oral sex" inside his official silver Crown Victoria at a Huntington Beach parking lot, grand jury records show. Though Jaramillo had an innocent explanation—he was giving the woman "legal advice," the incident created a "large firestorm" at the department.
"George would tell me the story that there was no way the team, which was the narcotics team, could have seen him getting any kind of oral sex in the car because it had dark tinted windows," Hood testified. "Later, much later, George disclosed that the woman was [we've deleted the name of a county employee], and he also said that he was getting oral sex in the car."
The grand jury also heard rumors about an incident involving Jaramillo and a prostitute in Anaheim, as well as the assistant sheriff's sexual overtures to several secretaries, including one who was promised college admissions help during a long-term affair.
A source who worked closely with Jaramillo for several years said the man was insatiable. "He expected women to do things for him—especially on his birthdays," the source said. "It's like he felt entitled to sex, and he'd pout and sulk until women gave him what he wanted. Then he'd take nude photos of the women. I think the pictures were the trophies of his conquests."
* * *
It's not easy for a high-ranking cop to attract FBI scrutiny. But it wasn't Jaramillo's sex life that interested agents. It was his finances and the still publicly unresolved question: Did he use his public office for kickbacks or scams?
Jaramillo and his family live in a modest, often-refinanced South County house purchased in 1994 before the real estate rush. Thanks to his powerful badge, Jaramillo shot into Orange County's high society. Millionaire businessmen with ocean-view estates, breathtaking yachts and the latest cars wanted to be his friend. They invited him to lunches and dinners or weekend boat cruises.
Hobnobbing with the rich made Jaramillo all the more determined to share their lifestyle. When he traveled to Washington, D.C., on official business, he repeatedly checked into opulent hotel rooms near the White House. For example, during a three-day 2002 trip, he rented a $365 per night room at the Willard Inter-Continental. On another trip that year, he stayed at the J.W. Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue at a cost of $354 per night, according to records obtained by the Weekly.
Jaramillo wanted to supplement his county pay. He helped get his wife Lisa, a professional fund-raiser, several jobs raising money for local politicians (including Carona, Rackauckas and state Assemblyman Todd Spitzer) and law enforcement-related charities. At times, the pay was extraordinary. She took $40,000 in proceeds from a single-night charity event for the sheriff's reserves.
The assistant sheriff also sought consulting work for himself and found, among others, Charles Gabbard, owner of CHG Safety Technologies Inc. in Newport Beach. Gabbard paid Jaramillo $15,000 for light work over a three-month period and $10,000 to Lisa, who admits she did nothing for the money.
During a recent court appearance, Gabbard—a convicted felon—called the payments "bribes" but struggled to say what he was buying other than Jaramillo's endorsement of his product, a laser gun and vehicle chip designed to safely end police pursuits. Last September, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed felony corruption charges against Jaramillo and his sister-in-law Erica Hill. Jaramillo had gotten her a job at CHG and then, according to the DA's office, plotted a hostile takeover of Gabbard's company.
The FBI's Santa Ana field office, working in conjunction with federal prosecutors in LA, has reviewed the CHG affair—which involved tens of thousands of dollars in illegal corporate campaign contributions to Carona—but so far has filed no charges. Agents have also investigated allegations of other kickback schemes, influence peddling, income-tax evasion and an out-of-state bank account. One includes a plot to pressure county inmates to hire certain defense attorneys who would then pay a reward to participating deputies. Another involves a plan to favor tow truck operators willing to share their financial windfall.
In recent weeks, federal prosecutors interviewed Jaramillo. Sources say a PowerPoint presentation outlined a pending corruption case tied to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The agents wanted to know if the ex-assistant sheriff had any information to share. Jaramillo adamantly denied the meeting. "Didn't happen," he said.
* * *
When Sheriff Carona invited Jaramillo to dinner at Santa Ana's Antonello Ristorante in August 2003, he had a painful secret to share. The men were self-described "brothers," "close" confidantes and "partners" since their underdog campaign won the sheriff's department in 1999. Their success bred a daring plan: Carona would serve as sheriff for the first half of a 16-year dynasty while grooming Jaramillo as his successor.
Despite a few early missteps, the Carona-Jaramillo team quickly grew in strength. They learned how to control the 4,000-employee agency, woo or intimidate political rivals and silence internal critics. Deputies appreciated their modernization efforts.
But the bulk of Carona's cop career involved courthouse security while serving as county marshal. Jaramillo had been a midlevel Garden Grove PD officer, known more for working public relations than solving crimes. Nevertheless, persistent media manipulation allowed the pair to build missing credentials as super cops.
The results were staggering. CNN's Larry King called Carona "America's sheriff" in 2002 during the Samantha Runnion case. Pundits pegged him as a future congressman or U.S. senator. California's last two governors—a Democrat and a Republican—brought him into their inner circles. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted Carona as his lieutenant governor. President Bush appointed him a top adviser on national security issues.
Jaramillo was no slouch either. In the span of a few short years, the onetime door-to-door salesman had parlayed a job at the Garden Grove Police Department and a night-school law degree into serving as second in command at the powerful sheriff's department. His office calendars show a man unafraid of long days and complex issues. Under Carona, he'd developed a national reputation as a rising Latino star. A July 2003 anti-terrorism speech he delivered to a congressional homeland security committee further burnished his image. The accomplishments didn't escape notice inside the Bush White House, where articulate minority Republicans are prized.
Jaramillo and Carona: G-rated Kodak moment
To the outside world, Carona and Jaramillo looked unstoppable; an OC dynasty was not only possible but a cinch, given their newfound celebrity status. Even Hollywood executives called, interested in featuring their department in a weekly network reality TV series.
But the PR glory masked an ugly reality. The partnership had collapsed amid childish power plays, backstabbing, insubordination and ethical messes. Carona cared for his top deputy, cherished his contributions and respected his talents, but he no longer trusted him.
Complaints about Jaramillo had stockpiled. He allegedly promoted personal allies in the department, punished perceived enemies and constantly interfered with reserve units, where often wealthy or politically connected individuals get an official badge. He unsuccessfully pressured DA Rackauckas to go easy on three gang-rape defendants because one was the teenage son of Assistant Sheriff Haidl. In August 2002, an uninvited Jaramillo was threatened with arrest if he didn't leave a VIP area during a Santa Ana visit by President Bush. Detectives trying to solve major crimes claimed Jaramillo would call them to his office and make them wait extended periods of time while he chatted with others about inconsequential business.
"He was all about flexing his muscle," said one veteran deputy. "The guy was a major-league asshole."
It took several years, but Carona eventually understood the frustration. In February 2003, the sheriff made his first visit to the Long Beach airport for a Jet Blue flight. The clerk at the counter welcomed him back. Carona thanked her but said he'd never been to that airport or flown Jet Blue. The clerk then recalled a trip two months earlier when a man who said he was the Orange County sheriff had delayed a flight to Washington, D.C. Later, a shocked Carona learned the whole story: a vacation-bound Jaramillo had not only used his authority to interfere with a flight, but he'd also used the department's helicopter to visit his ill mother at Mission Hospital before flying to the airport. There, Jaramillo discovered he'd left his wallet and wife's purse inside his car parked at the hospital, ordered a deputy to retrieve the items, and commanded the sheriff's helicopter to rendezvous with the deputy's car. The department's helicopter landed off the 241 toll road and rushed the wallet and purse to Jaramillo and his wife at the Long Beach airport.
According to Jaramillo, he didn't order the deputies to fly the helicopter anywhere. He says they took it upon themselves to serve him. Disclosure of "this blown out of proportion" incident proves his enemies were determined to destroy him, he insists.
However Carona believed the assistant sheriff was his own worst enemy. At the August 2003 Antonello's dinner, Carona dropped his bombshell on Jaramillo: You don't have the temperament to lead Orange County's law enforcement. You will not get my endorsement for sheriff in the 2006 race.
The revelation stunned Jaramillo. Tears formed in his eyes. Had Carona's remark been off-the-cuff due to an exhausting workload, the late hour or too many martinis? Or perhaps the sheriff was joking, Jaramillo hoped. Hadn't they promised each other a Carona-Jaramillo dynasty? Wasn't this the height of betrayal?
Jaramillo agrees there was talk of no endorsement at the dinner and that emotions ran high. But he says it was the sheriff who was teary-eyed. Carona had begged him to remain at his side if he ran for lieutenant governor, according to Jaramillo.
Whatever the truth, seven months later Carona removed the assistant sheriff from office in a "management reorganization." Before deputies escorted him out of the building, Jaramillo told his old friend, "Fuck you," and then promised he had enough dirt to "burn your house down," according to a source who was present. The sheriff's allies say that it wasn't until afterwards that Carona—who'll seek a third term in 2006—learned of the FBI's interest in his department and the ex-assistant sheriff.
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.
* * *
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."
* * *
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."
* * *
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."