By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Badge Boys, Badge Boys
OC media asked to ignore still-emerging dirt on Carona’s PSR mess at the sheriff’s department
Thinking I’d hear details about needed Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) reforms, I was prepared to write a positive review of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ latest press conference dealing with the damn real badges her predecessor, the FBI-indicted Mike Carona, slipped to the folks he partied with: two wealthy Dana Point resort builders who hosted his fund-raising events; his convicted-felon martial-arts instructor; the owner of his favorite South Coast Plaza-area restaurant; a Las Vegas businessman who associates with organized-crime thugs; numerous political hacks; his political consultant; his pollster; two local billionaires caught in federal corruption probes; a Newport Beach man linked to European mafia and stolen high-end sports cars in LA; a Nevada casino boss; an Anaheim liquor-store king caught attempting to bribe a federal official; various campaign contributors; a man who testified for the gang-rapist son of an assistant sheriff; and the husband of Susan Atkins, the infamous, incarcerated Charles Manson family member convicted of murdering actress Sharon Tate and her unborn baby in 1969.
But upon arrival, it became clear that Hutchens, a retired LA County Sheriff’s chief appointed OC’s top cop by the Board of Supervisors three months ago, had summoned the press corps to her department’s Tustin training facility on Aug. 25 under murky pretenses. She didn’t want to make news. She wanted to remind us of something we already knew: Despite Carona’s tainted influence, hundreds of fine men and women routinely volunteer their specialties to the OCSD’s Professional Service Responders (PSR) program without compensation.
“We couldn’t function without them,” a sincere Hutchens said while standing in front of several high-ranking sheriff’s officials who’d backed Carona long after it was clear he was a pathetic character from the pages of a seedy dime novel.
Okay, I get it. The program, like the OCSD itself, now needs a PR boost. To drive the point home, Hutchens paraded before us four outstanding PSR guys—George Ridley, Tim Reynolds, Fred Arnow and Dr. Kenneth Cheng. Each said his contributions had everything to do with public service, not grabbing badges (which have been recalled).
But then Hutchens gave the microphone to Community Services Division Captain Brian Wilkerson, who oversees deputized reserves as well as the PSR unit. He’s also apparently in change of the Department of Messenger-Blaming: He proceeded to scold the media for informing the public about PSR abuses. Incredibly, he didn’t mention the real villains: Carona and the, well, colorful characters he made PSRs, some of whom remain active.
“Truthfully, um, I think they [PSR volunteers] have been somewhat misrepresented, uh, in the press,” Wilkerson intoned, grabbing the podium firmly with both hands, “by, uh, constantly focusing on the negative that was a few years ago when the program started up for some of the people that [sic] were involved in it and the vast majority of the people who participate in this program do an outstanding service for the department and the citizens of Orange County. And quite honestly, that’s what I’d like y’all to report on, is what they’re doing today, because the allegations of what happened in the past administration truly is old news.”
Uh, Brian, I don’t remember you challenging Carona when he was in power—we’re not dealing with ancient history. It was this summer when the man formerly in charge of PSR operations, Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl, confessed to FBI agents that badges had been sold during Carona’s reign. Furthermore, PSR members linked to that scandal remain in your program. And, as LA Times reporters Christine Hanley and Stuart Pfeifer recently discovered, a whopping 42 members of the PSR claimed they lost their badges after being asked to turn them in.
After the press conference, I asked about the contributions of still-active Carona PSR millionaire cronies such as real-estate developer Michael Harrah and the father-son team of Hadi and Paul Makarechian, major GOP contributors and owners of the St. Regis Resort in Dana Point.
For the past three years, it’s been Lieutenant Tom Slayton’s task to clean up the PSR program. He’s done a fine job, and he wasn’t defensive about my inquiry. Slayton gave me in-depth answers about Harrah (0 hours of service since 2005); Paul Makarechian (never gave a minute to the program); and his father, Hadi (468 hours since 2005 by donating use of his private jet).
Does inactivity raise questions about a member’s intentions?
“I don’t see a downside to keeping a lot of backups,” Slayton told me. “Now that the badge issue is gone, the controversy should be gone. These people are here to volunteer their time, nothing more.”
HUMORLESS SANCHEZ FRETS OBAMA ZINGER
A still-whining Representative Loretta Sanchez, a backer of Hillary Clinton’s losing presidential campaign, told Politico.com before the Denver convention that Clinton supporters have “encountered a disconnect” with Barack Obama’s staff.