Sex, Bribes and Jailhouse Scams

Sheriff Carona working overtime to stop reports he's a serial adulterer

You might remember Joseph G. Cavallo as the lead attorney in the Greg Haidl gang-rape case; it was Cavallo who infamously called the victim in the case a "slut." Now Cavallo has another distinguishing characteristic: he's the second of Sheriff Mike Carona's friends—men so close they called each other "brother"—to be indicted in the past 10 weeks.

In late July, the district attorney charged one of the brothers, ex-Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, with accepting bribes from Charles H. Gabbard, a convicted felon Jaramillo met through Carona. Though Carona twice accepted thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from Gabbard, the DA charged only Jaramillo.

On Oct. 5, prosecutors won an indictment against Cavallo. The charges allege that Cavallo operated an illegal kickback scheme involving bail bonds and inmates—inside Mike Carona's Orange County Jail. Cavallo is expected to plead not guilty.

"I'm confident that I'll win," he said. "I've done nothing wrong."

Cavallo says it's no accident that he and Jaramillo, once the sheriff's best friends, now find themselves on the wrong end of government indictments. It's payback, according to Cavallo, for choosing sides in what has become the biggest power struggle in recent OC law-enforcement history. He says the sheriff ended their brotherhood when Cavallo refused to drop Jaramillo as a client. But there's more to this story than bribery and bail bond scams. As with so many things involving powerful men like the sheriff, sex—and keeping secrets about sex—is at the center of the scandal.

* * *

Carona is a self-styled "conservative Christian." But since last spring, he's been plagued by leaks suggesting that he's used his position as the county's top cop to lure women into bed. Never mind that some of the allegations against him have been made under oath by people who face perjury charges if they've lied, or that the sheriff has refused recorded interviews by police detectives. His crisis-management lawyers say the sheriff is unconcerned.

Carona posing on four
occasions with Erica Hill,
who told the grand jury
the sheriff sought and received
sex after her husband
applied for a deputy spot.

In reality, the sheriff is panicked, says Cavallo, the sheriff's friend and drinking buddy for 26 years. He says Carona's family-values reputation is a façade. Married with one teenage son, Carona prays the public won't learn that he is, as Cavallo calls him, a serial adulterer.

Cavallo says the story begins in June. The sheriff was attending an off-site strategic-planning meeting in Temecula. It was after midnight when he called Cavallo's cell phone and left a 90-second message, a copy of which the Weekly obtained.

The message is explicit. It's clear the sheriff believed he was speaking to a friend and could do so candidly. It's just as clear the walls were closing in. In the very public battle between the sheriff and Jaramillo, Cavallo had chosen to represent Jaramillo. At the same time, Internal Affairs (IA) investigators in the sheriff's department were pressing Carona to explain evidence that, in 2001 and 2002, he may have made unsolicited phone calls to Susan Holloway. An Aliso Viejo resident and distant relative of Jaramillo's, Holloway was seeking a job at the department in 2001. In that year and the next, the sheriff invited the married woman "out for drinks" and to take a trip, according to a document she provided IA officers in May 2005. Carona was likely also aware that at least two news outlets, including the Weekly, had obtained details of the allegations.

That was the context of the late-night June phone call, a message that is rambling, disjointed and threatening. "I suggest neither he [Jaramillo] nor you nor anybody else you know, uh, if you want to engage in the media, be more than happy to do it," the sheriff told Cavallo. "But, um, uh, there's all kinds of issues on this and there's all kinds of issues on him [Jaramillo]. Um, anyway, I'm not a happy camper, Joe, as you can probably tell . . . Jaramillo is a fuck!"

On the tape, Carona tells Cavallo he doesn't "want to take it out" on him—but that Cavallo should consider himself warned about the dangers of Jaramillo publicizing the sheriff's alleged extramarital activities: "I'm going to shove it up his ass," says Carona, a Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The sheriff is so concerned about his image he waited more than two days to respond to the Weekly's request for an interview. Instead of talking to reporters directly, he brought in Jennifer Keller, one of at least two of Carona's high-powered private crisis-management attorneys. Keller said, "The sheriff absolutely and positively never made any such statements" to Cavallo.

In the audio recording, the sheriff blamed Jaramillo for the Holloway leak. But he was wrong. It was Holloway's outraged husband.

Dean Holloway says he had the unpleasant experience of witnessing his wife answer an April 2002 phone call from the sheriff. The woman says Carona invited her to take a weekend trip to San Francisco. On another occasion, the sheriff reportedly left a voice-mail message for the woman at the couple's Aliso Viejo home.

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