At the insistence of John Barnett, OC 's legendary defense lawyer, a San Bernardino County judge refused to allow opening statements Monday in the jury trial of Raymond K. Yi, a former OC reserve deputy who faces six felony charges for a 2005 gun-related temper tantrum on a golf course.
Barnett, famous for his defense in the Rodney King police-brutality case and the Greg Haidl gang-rape trials, urged a mistrial because of the potential "inflammatory nature" of the Seung-Hui Cho killing spree last week at Virginia Tech.
Yi—who is accused of threatening to kill other golfers—is also a native of South Korea.
But Barnett says comparisons aren't legitimate because Yi, who got his sheriff's department powers based on personal ties to Sheriff Mike Carona, had an excuse for showing his reserve badge, pulling a gun on a group of other golfers and promising to use it: he feared for his own safety.
The unarmed golfers who faced Yi's gun barrel have told a different story. They said Yi acted like a madman in an emotional meltdown.
The judge delayed the case for at least six weeks.
If convicted, Yi faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
A guilty verdict wouldn't necessarily block Yi from future public service. If history is any clue, Yi could soon become an Orange County assistant sheriff or head of the reserve unit. Carona appointed Don Haidl (father of gang rapist Greg Haidl) an assistant sheriff despite the used car salesman's, uh, colorful background, which includes three state corruption investigations.
George Jaramillo, Carona's longtime best friend who was appointed No. 2 at the OCSD for six years, is now in jail for public corruption.
In 1999, Carona pal Jack Hanshaw—owner of an Orange County liquor-store chain—and a secret, major Carona donor for years—was fined $200,000 for attempting to bribe a federal court official. (Hanshaw is a "wonderful man," the sheriff's Yes Men insist.)
In 2000, the Las Vegas police vice squad arrested a member of Carona's handpicked dignitary-protection unit (actually the sheriff's spy outfit) for soliciting a street whore.
In 2005, another Carona pal, a Las Vegas restaurant owner, was forced to return his official badge and gun, not because of his mafia associations, but because the media discovered he'd angrily tried to use his badge to illegally park in Newport Beach.
Defense lawyer Joseph G. Cavallo, Carona's drinking pal and a partner with Barnett in the Haidl rape case, faces trial this summer for somehow having the influence to operate an illegal inmate kickback scheme inside Carona's OC Jail.
Last year, California's generous attorney general agreed to dropped 16 charges against Carona Captain Christine Murray if she performed community-service chores for illegally pressuring public employees to deposit money in Carona's campaign account.
Weeks later, a member of Carona's secretive dignitary-protection unit committed suicide after he was approached by state police investigators for dirt on OCSD shenanigans. Before he put the gun to his head, the last webpage he visited was my story detailing Carona's pictured association with Rick Rizzolo, a Las Vegas titty-bar owner and now a convicted felon with impressive Italian-American mob ties, according to multiple law-enforcement sources.
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Fourteen months ago, a foreign convicted felon with alleged ties to a high-priced auto-theft ring crashed a $1.2 million Ferrari on PCH in Malibu while driving 162 mph. At the time, Bo Stefan Eriksson also possessed a handgun belonging to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. One of Carona's reserve deputies, Roger Davis, a Newport Beach businessman, was friends with Eriksson.
Charles Gabbard—a convicted murderer, robber, thief and Carona breakfast partner —narrowly avoided charges for depositing $40,000 in illegal campaign contributions in Carona's campaign account after getting our sheriff to write an official letter endorsing a Gabbard invention. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who shares his top political strategist with the sheriff, also let Carona escape potential bribery charges for the transaction.
I'm sure it's a coincidence that many of the numerous Carona-related scandals involve money (or sex). Not that this may interest the local U.S. Attorney's office or Santa Ana FBI—the public's only hope for honest government evaluation of Carona's reign. To date, their in-depth investigations into the sheriff's operations, pals and money flow has been all talk, no action. Then again, perhaps Carona is a squeaky-clean politician who should have our sympathy for his inability to pick honest friends and assistants.