Joseph G. Cavallo grew up poor in tough New Jersey neighborhoods, graduated from law school, made himself nationally famous as a California criminal-defense lawyer who earned millions of dollars. He owns an Orange County mansion, a small Caribbean island and a fleet of luxury cars Mike Tyson would envy.
But today, Cavallo—recognized for his passionate defense of gang rapist Gregory Scott Haidl—hit bottom again. During a 10-minute court hearing with 13 members of the news media present (including Los Angeles television and radio stations), the 52-year-old acknowledged that he is guilty of three grand-jury charges involving an illegal bail-bonds conspiracy. The crime spree was lucrative. At one point, Cavallo (pictured with Sheriff Carona and his wife) made a $50,000 payment by check to one of his co-conspirators.
“Yes,” a well-tanned, solemn Cavallo answered repeatedly to a series of questions by Superior Court Judge Carla M. Singer and Senior Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh. They wanted Cavallo’s guarantees that he’d voluntarily made the guilty pleas and understood the potential consequences.
The maximum sentence possible for Cavallo is three years and eight months in prison. He could also lose his law license temporarily. Singer ordered a probation department report and recommendation on punishment. Jorge Andres Castro of Aliso Viejo and Alejandro de Jesus Cruz of Miami had already pleaded guilty and were sentenced to four months in jail. Cavallo, the mastermind of the crimes, is scheduled to learn his fate on Dec. 14.
Less than 10 feet away sat Susan Kang Schroeder, the district attorney’s media spokesman and Cavallo’s verbal sparing partner during the intense Haidl saga that spanned three years and ended with the three defendants going to prison for videotaping themselves rape and molest a minor on a pool table with a pool stick, apple-juice can, lit cigarette and Snapple bottle. It’s safe to report that the two strong-willed individuals don’t like each other. Perhaps in celebration of today’s news, Schroeder wore red. Cavallo cringed when she entered the courtroom. He asked me not to print his comment.
At a press conference afterward, John Barnett—Cavallo’s attorney—was blunt. “He’s guilty,” he said. But reporters wanted more, especially the answer to why Barnett had dropped his original claim from two years ago that Cavallo was the victim of vindictive prosecutors angry they’d lost a first trial conviction of the Haidl 3. “He said he is guilty,” Barnett replied again.
I’m sure it’s meaningless, but Cavallo is the second man convicted of felonies after a falling out over money, women and power with Sheriff Michael S. Carona. George Jaramillo (pictured with the sheriff), Carona’s former handpicked No. 2 at the department and a Cavallo pal, is currently serving a jail sentence after a bribery and misuse of public office investigation. Cavallo and Carona were longtime camping and drinking buddies.
The missing man from today's news is certainly Carona. Honest bail-bonds agents had complained to the sheriff for years that someone teamed up with jail deputies inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and was running a bail-bonds scam in his jails. Carona did nothing and, when pressed, claimed he’d checked but didn’t find any evidence of a scam.
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Mob-tied, Las Vegas titty-bar owner Rick Rizzolo (pictured with his arm around a smiling Carona inside a Newport Beach bar) and con artist Joseph Medawar—two other men Carona made associates—are now serving federal prison sentences. Indeed, Rizzolo--whom FBI agents have recorded dining with La Cosa Nostra hitmen and bosses--was a campaign contributor to our sheriff until the local media exposed the tie.
Earlier this year, a well-respected international police organization voted to block access by Carona and the Orange County Sheriff's Department to its organized-crime databases. The reason? Carona's documented ties to criminals.
Mike Schroeder, husband of Susan Kang Schroeder and a high-powered Republican consultant to both Carona and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, claims "nobody credible" thinks there are legitimate questions about Carona's ethics.
Earlier this month, a federal judge refused the sheriff's demand to toss a lawsuit by ex-Lt. Bill Hunt, an underling essentially fired after daring to challenge Carona in the last election. His firing offense? Believing that he enjoyed 1st Amendment constitutional rights, Hunt mentioned the scandals. -- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly