Sex, Bribes and Jailhouse Scams

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

Susan Holloway, 31, told the sheriff's IA officers, "I never invited the calls from Mike Carona and had no intention of calling him back."

Keller told LA Times reporter Christine Hanley that the accusations were part of a "ridiculously transparent conspiracy" against a "great law-enforcement officer with a spotless record."

However, Keller hasn't explained how Holloway benefits from the conspiracy. Holloway has shunned media attention and asked for nothing from the sheriff. But Dean Holloway had a message for Carona. He told the Weekly, "The sheriff needs to leave other men's wives alone."

Carona's efforts to keep a lid on the sex scandal failed in September when the grand jury released the testimony of another woman, Erica Hill—Jaramillo's sister-in-law. Believing her story would remain secret, Hill testified in July that the sheriff demanded and received sexual favors from her on four occasions after her husband applied for a job as a deputy. Though Hill can name the location and time of each encounter, Carona flatly says she's a liar. Hill has proposed that they take lie-detector tests.

"I'm not the only woman the sheriff has cheated with," Hill told the Weekly. "He's got to be scared that others will come forward and tell the truth."

Law-enforcement files contain the names of still other alleged Carona mistresses.

* * *

Cavallo met Carona in 1979. At the county's West Court, Cavallo worked as an intern in the district attorney's office, while Carona served as a bailiff. Both weightlifters and ambitious, they bonded quickly.

(Top) A happy Carona cradles
the female interpreter provided
by Moscow authorities during
a 2002 trip.
(Bottom) On another day,
the same woman wears the
sheriff's official jacket. Describing
the second shot as innocent,
a Carona lawyer says the
sheriff needed to loan
the woman his jacket to
get her into his hotel
room because "there's a
prostitution problem" in
Moscow. The lawyer claims
the first shot could be
doctored because the sheriff
can't remember cradling
the woman.

Over the years, Cavallo and Carona have consumed plenty of alcohol together. They've camped together, visited each other's homes and celebrated birthdays. When Carona ran for sheriff in 1998 as a reform candidate, Cavallo contributed money and attended the victory celebration. In just the past year, Cavallo figures the sheriff has called him more than 100 times. Despite receiving formal complaints for seven years about bail scams, the sheriff investigated but claimed that he never found any problems.

But their friendship is over. Based in part on the June phone message, Cavallo filed a Sept. 19 legal claim against Carona. He says the sheriff repeatedly demanded a secret pact: they could remain friends if Cavallo wouldn't call him to testify under oath during Jaramillo's upcoming corruption trial. Cavallo and Jaramillo say the sheriff fears public exposure of more embarrassing secrets.

"Joe Cavallo informed Mike Carona that he intended to continue to vigorously represent Jaramillo," the claim asserts. "Mike Carona indicated that he would bring the full weight of the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Orange County district attorney's office down on Joseph Cavallo and Jaramillo."

Three weeks later, DA Tony Rackauckas and Carona—who usually don't get along unless a case is mutually beneficial—smiled. On Oct. 7, Cavallo found himself in court as a defendant facing three felony counts. Two bail bondsmen were also charged. The indictment might force Cavallo to abandon his defense of Jaramillo. If convicted, he could be disbarred and serve a maximum state prison sentence of three years and eight months. He's free on $25,000 bail.

John Barnett, Cavallo's attorney and a colleague on the Haidl defense team, said the indictment "looks suspicious." During the past three years, no lawyer has "ferociously" challenged the DA like Cavallo, according to Barnett.

"There's at least the appearance of bias," he said, noting that Cavallo's indictment "followed a threat by Mike Carona"—the June phone call.

In response, Rackauckas claimed his probe began not with Carona but with a complaint from bail bondsmen in "early 2003." It's unclear why the DA waited almost three years to charge Cavallo. But at a press conference, Rackauckas said he was motivated solely by "strong evidence" from "more than two dozen witnesses."

It's unlawful for an attorney to pay bail bonds agents to find clients. Prosecutors say Cavallo and several firms created a "tank worker" system in the OC Jail—employing inmates who forcefully recommend certain lawyers and bail bondsmen to other detainees. In return, they allege, the bondsmen paid the tank workers a bounty of up to $1,000 per lead. The DA says his charge is backed by evidence of financial links between Xtreme Bail Bonds of Santa Ana, its clients and Cavallo. How much money was allegedly exchanged is not yet known, although the lawyer did give the owner of Xtreme a $50,000 interest-free loan. Investigators believe a handful of uncharged jail deputies may have also been involved in the scheme.

In defending his case, Rackauckas didn't mention that Jaramillo, who was also linked to the bail-bonds investigation, and Cavallo have often ridiculed him as sleazy and stupid. But under questioning by reporters, the DA said his detectives focused on Cavallo "fairly quickly" and that his probe into bail-bond scams ended with Cavallo's indictment.

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