Haidl: How the fuck am I going to file a gift tax saying I gave money to fucking you, you know? It can’t happen, you know?

Carona: Right.

The men settled on a different ruse during their Aug. 13, 2007, dinner at the Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach. Believing federal agents had summoned Haidl to testify, Carona concluded that portion of the pre-indictment conversation saying, “Did it [the bribes] ever happen?”

Haidl replied, “Right . . . as long as you and me are telling the same story . . .”

The sheriff—the man elected three times by campaigning as an honest agent of reform—chuckled.

In his opening statement, Sagel said he’d prove that Haidl “was looking to buy power, and Mike Carona and George Jaramillo were selling it.” After two weeks of testimony, it appears the prosecutor has succeeded. The only hope for defense lawyers Brian A. Sun and Jeffrey Rawitz is to cast Jaramillo—Carona’s campaign manager, “friend for life,” travel companion and hand-picked second in command at the OCSD—as the criminal mastermind who operated without the knowledge and consent of the man usually standing beside him.

Haidl may have been instrumental in shattering that hope.

“They [Carona and Jaramillo] were a magical team,” he testified. “Not to be disrespectful, but I’d refer to them as ‘The Preacher’ and ‘The Pickpocket.’ They were more upfront [with their demands for cash] than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life. . . . I’d say they were joined at the hip.”

In the midst of a heated, close race in 1998 against Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, Carona and Jaramillo promised Haidl that the sheriff’s department would be “at my disposal” if he’d initially put $30,000 in illegal contributions into the campaign.

“[Carona] offered an awful lot for a relatively small amount,” testified Haidl.

Sagel asked what story Carona wanted told if someone questioned suspicious contributions.

“He said that everyone was going to deny everything,” said Haidl. “He needed plausible deniability. . . . He used the term that he didn’t want his ‘fingerprints’ on it. George was to be the bad guy. He was the guy who’d take the heat—be the bad guy, the front guy, the buffer. [Carona] used those words.”

If Jaramillo was assigned the role of bad cop, what role did Carona want?

Haidl quickly leaned to the microphone, bumped it accidentally with his lips, backed off slightly and said with a deep, raspy voice shaped by years of chain-smoking cigarettes, “The tough sheriff with the great heart.”

rscottmoxley@ocweekly.com

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