By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
“Carona would complain to me numerous times that George was going off the reservation or outside the circle, getting money and not bringing it back,” continued Haidl. Carona, Haidl and Jaramillo called themselves “Team Forever” and “brothers for life” after they assumed control of the sheriff’s department in January 1999. (Jaramillo, who has already served time for state crimes, has admitted to scheming with Carona and Haidl to corrupt the agency; his federal sentencing is scheduled for later this year.)
Everything Haidl said was lost on “Drucker.” His eyes were shut and his head had fallen back, resting on the courtroom wall. His chin pointed to the ceiling. I nudged Eric Leonard, a KFI radio reporter, who looked at the juror, shook his head and uttered, “Amazing.”
Later, Haidl testified that Carona systematically used real sheriff’s badges as carrots to lure campaign contributions. For example, though Broadcom Inc. billionaire Henry Samueli had no law-enforcement experience or training, he got a badge because, according to Haidl, “Carona said he’s a real wealthy guy worth a lot of money.”
Juror No. 8’s eyes fluttered momentarily, and then re-closed. Haidl’s words, priceless to the government, almost interrupted a perfectly good midmorning nap. Almost.
Sagel asked Haidl why Carona gave a concealed-weapon permit to an Orange County businessman tied, in FBI wiretaps, to an international narcotics-smuggling ring. Haidl recalled, “He said, ‘I’m the sheriff. I can do whatever I want.’”
Prior to his arrest in 2007, Carona had unwittingly spoken into a recording device worn by Haidl, who’d quietly agreed to cooperate with federal agents in exchange for a lenient sentence in a tax-fraud matter. On the tape, the then-sheriff worried that it would be “problematic” if federal prosecutors Sagel and Ken Julian learned of his ties to the businessman.
But “Drucker” wouldn’t be able to link that portion of Haidl’s testimony to Carona’s admission, either. He was sleeping again. This time, his mouth was wide open. His head eventually flopped to the left—a little farther, and his ear would have rested on his shoulder.
I looked across the courtroom at Carona. His head swiveled from Haidl to Juror No. 8, who was now leaning at a 45-degree angle toward the lap of the juror to his left, Deatherage, the lone woman. She shot her colleague a horrified expression and loudly rocked her chair. The sudden, squeaky noise drove open the juror’s heavy eyelids. Clearly startled, he gulped and gazed around the courtroom, attempting to adjust to the light. He had just missed 17 consecutive minutes of testimony.
This travesty didn’t offend everyone. Across the room, Carona cracked a smile, perhaps recalling assurances by Rawitz that “we really like this jury.”
The payoff arrived. In the biggest law-enforcement-corruption case in OC history, “Drucker,” a man who didn’t bother to pay attention or take a single note, quickly established during deliberations that he was a solid vote for Carona, and according to multiple sources, he didn’t see much need to debate his stance. One juror later described him to me as “stubborn” and “obstructive.”
* * *
After the verdicts had left some trial observers flabbergasted (a few tearfully angry), “Drucker” and a band of other old-white-male jurors, the ones who pushed the panel to go soft on Carona, huddle together in the courthouse lobby making small talk. Outside, dozens of reporters and seven Los Angeles-based television station cameras await their explanations for going easy on Carona, who year after year failed to publicly disclose expensive gifts such as private jet rides, free hotel rooms, dinners, booze, a boat, custom-made suits, thousands of dollars in casino gambling chips and $5,000 monthly payments to one of his mistresses, funds used to conduct their affair.
But the jurors have no intention of talking. Their guard, a humorless employee of the U.S. Marshal’s service, stands nearby. I inquire, “Why don’t you guys want to answer questions?”
“Drucker,” a chain smoker visibly craving a cigarette, and several other jurors turn, look at me and frown. A tall one with thick black eyebrows, his identity shielded by court order, shrugs his shoulders, and then turns away.
Moments later, while Carona declares victory, these men, who’d refused to take a firm stand against the corruption of the most powerful office in Orange County, silently disappear into a community that’s in awe of its celebrities, even the ones who are dirty cops.
* * *
The verdicts aren’t two hours old. I’m driving north on Interstate 405 to KOCE-TV’s headquarters to discuss the trial on Rick Reiff’s Inside OC with Mickadeit. My cell phone rings.
“Hey, Moxley,” says Jeffrey Rawitz, Carona’s lead defense attorney. “You’re right. Mike was no angel. He was probably just as hypocritical as you’ve always said. But you’re the best investigative reporter in the county. It’s important when you write your obituary of this case that you let people know that the federal government had no business bringing these charges. They tried to criminalize acts that may have been ugly, but just weren’t illegal. . . . Can you think about writing that?”
I laugh. Rawitz is good. He wasn’t satisfied getting just one miracle that day.