U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford today firmly rejected legal efforts by Mike Carona to overturn a jury's guilty verdict, noting that there was "ample evidence" that the ex-Orange County sheriff attempted to sabotage a federal grand jury investigating bribery and corruption at the top of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
"Sufficient evidence exists to support a conviction if the district court concludes that a rational trier of fact 'could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt,'" wrote Judge Guilford in his ruling.
Guilford, who is rational, went on to note that a secret August 13, 2007, FBI recording that captured Carona inside a Newport Beach restaurant where he repeatedly suggested ways for Don Haidl, a wealthy businessman who says he gave the sheriff $1,000-a-month in cash bribes, to lie under oath if questioned by federal authorities.
Carona had argued that the conviction should be overturned on a technicality, claiming that a federal law the jury said he violated only prohibited efforts to dissuade a grand jury witness from testifying at all. His situation was different, Carona argued through his Jones Day legal team. He didn't try to convince Haidl not to testify. He merely tried to get Haidl to lie while testifying, a distinction that impressed Carona but not Guilford. The judge called the defense claims nothing more than "finely parsing language."
Strike three** for Carona today was Guilford's decision that the ex-sheriff's attempts to smear the ethics of federal officials--Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Julian and IRS Special Agent Steven Berryman, two of the leaders of the Carona probe--were baseless and also unworthy of wiping out the guilty verdict.
What does all this mean? Our ex-top cop--who incredibly called himself "beyond vindicated" after the January verdicts--is now definitely heading to his April 27 sentencing date. A federal probation officer has recommended that he receive a sentence of 78 months in prison. If Guilford ultimately decides for a punishment in that range, all the bulk-producing protein shakes Carona religiously consumed in plastic water bottles during the trial won't have gone to waste.
**All was not lost for Carona this week. Judge Guilford did grant the convicted felon permission to spend portions of the next three weeks traveling to San Diego, Berkeley and San Francisco so that he can attend college open houses with his high school graduating son Matthew. You may recall from corruption trial evidence that Carona plotted to use his son for an alibi by claiming unexplained large sums of cash detected by the feds belonged to the youngster.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly