Already looking into allegations that Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo interfered with a rape probe and drug bust involving a colleague's son, the Orange County grand jury is now investigating whether Jaramillo abused his power in at least two other cases, according to KCBS-TV.
The station reported on Feb. 12 that the panel is reviewing possible conflict-of-interest charges that Jaramillo arranged for his wife to take over fund-raising for a sheriff's department charity and increased her fee percentage from the usual 10 percent to 17 percent of amounts raised.
Benefits of the sweetheart deal emerged after an April 2003 law-enforcement charity banquet to supplement local crime fighting. In truth, the event may have done more for the Jaramillo family than police. KCBS reporter Dave Lopez said Lisa Jaramillo took home "just under $43,000"—more money than was given to any of the charity's beneficiaries: the reserves, K9 or elder-abuse units of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Sources told Lopez and OC Weekly that the grand jury is also interested in the assistant sheriff's use of department helicopters, which are called Duke I and Duke II (in honor of John Wayne) and cost taxpayers more than $720 per hour to fly. The questionable copter usage, first reported in 2003 by The Orange County Register, involved Jaramillo's trips to his visit his mother, attend an LA media affair and catch a Long Beach Jet Blue flight for a holiday party in Washington, D.C. Following disclosure, some officials mockingly called the sheriff's helicopters "flying limousines."
During a February press conference, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas confirmed the investigation into whether Jaramillo and other deputies obstructed justice to aid accused rapist Gregory Scott Haidl during and after an October drug bust. Rackauckas also acknowledged that the probe is not limited to the drug incident. He said his office was "investigating everything that has to do" with Jaramillo's behind-the-scenes influence in the pot case "and anything that might even be spinning off of that."
Sources say the grand jury has an official sheriff's tape recording that captured Jaramillo ordering that records of Haidl's connection to the drug case be buried from the public. Haidl—who was not charged in the incident even though a bag of marijuana was found with his keys and cigarettes—is the 18-year-old son of Jaramillo's colleague, Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl. The teenager was out of jail on $100,000 bail at the time. Jaramillo claims he acted only to save the Haidls further media scrutiny.
The younger Haidl and two of his friends face more than 20 felony counts for allegedly raping and molesting an unconscious minor on a pool table during a July 2002 beer party in Newport Beach. Exhibit A in the prosecution's case is a graphic 21-minute DVD Haidl made of the encounter with his Sony Hand Held camera. That trial is scheduled to begin in March.
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Law enforcement is a tight community, but the rape case exposed a rift between the DA's office and some members of the sheriff's department—particularly Jaramillo—who believe the case isn't serious and deserves to be handled in a more lenient juvenile court. Newport Beach police say Jaramillo interfered with their investigation of the rape when he showed up and advised the family not to cooperate. Haidl and Jaramillo claim the DA's office has been overzealous in its prosecution in hopes of improving its public image.
A political appointee of Sheriff Mike Carona, Jaramillo has denied any wrongdoing either to aid himself, his wife or the Haidls. In fact, he's been defiant about all of the allegations. "Everything I've done is per policy and per the law," he told the Weekly in a December interview.
Unlike the mild-mannered Carona, Jaramillo doesn't hide his ego or ambitions, which apparently includes the top sheriff's job. Whether the grand jury takes formal action against him, news of the probes may have killed his hopes to someday replace Carona. Jaramillo thinks he can blame a politically motivated vendetta originating in the DA's office.
"I'm disappointed in the DA," he said. "There's been unnecessary shots in this. People are throwing hand grenades. I don't respect that."