Former Orange County assistant sheriff George Henry Jaramillo and his sister-in-law Erica Lynne Hill were arrested late Wednesday morning for alleged fraud, misappropriation of government funds and felony conflicts of interest.
Both appeared before Orange County Superior Court Judge Marc Kelly for arraignment on Wednesday afternoon. Jaramillo, 44, was charged with six felony counts of misappropriating government funds and four misdemeanor counts of conflicts of interest, while Hill, 33, faced three felony counts for misappropriating government funds.
Hill and Jaramillo pleaded not guilty to all charges, and their attorney Joseph Smith—a former Orange County deputy district attorney who broke from the office after going to Sacramento to file a conflict-of-interest complaint against his boss, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas—denied the allegations against his clients.
James Laird, the prosecutor on the case, is a 14-year veteran of the DA's office and is currently assigned to the Felony Projects Unit. At a post-arraignment press conference, Laird said the arrest culminates "a lengthy investigation of several months" and that he "considers this a very serious case of public corruption."
If convicted, the defendants face at the least probation and the most nine years in state prison.
Most of the 15-minute arraignment hearing was devoted to the defendants' bail. Smith asked that the defendants be released on their own recognizance. But, citing the number of felony charges, the time span the alleged crimes took place and the "seriousness of the charges," Kelly set bail at $25,000 apiece. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 6.
Jaramillo and Hill were posting bail at press time.
During the hearing, Jaramillo, who was dressed in a blue suit, kept rubbing his lips and fingers, looking around the courtroom and acting fairly cocky. By contrast, his sister-in-law, in a tan business suit, kept her hands folded in front of her and was very quiet.
Laird did not take questions from reporters, directing the media to a press conference Rackauckas has scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30.
Jaramillo, surrounded by Orange County District Attorney detectives, arrived at the Santa Ana jail at 11:07 a.m. Wednesday in the back seat of a black Chevy Tahoe with tinted windows.
According to documents released by investigators, Sheriff Mike Carona, who appointed Jaramillo his No. 2 man after his 1998 election, did not know his assistant sheriff had received $10,000 from a contractor doing business with his department until Sheriff's Capt. Pete Gannon alerted him to a story in OC Weekly ("Mr. Big Mouth: In the Haidl gang-rape case, the Sheriff's No. 2 digs himself deeper," March 12).
That story was based on Jaramillo's answers during a Feb. 9 deposition in fellow Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl's ex-wife Gail Haidl's $15 million civil suit against the Newport Beach and San Bernardino police who arrested her son for the 2002 gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old.
In that deposition, Jaramillo admitted he accepted up to $10,000 from CHG Safety Technologies as payment for "consulting." He added that he properly disclosed the fee in an annual ethics report.
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But the ethics report did not reveal that CHG was lobbying for a contract on the state-mandated installation of the company's electronic device on all of California's 30 million vehicles to help cops end pursuits. CHG ultimately won valuable support for its proposed legislation from the Sheriff's Department. Without disclosing the fee paid to Jaramillo, the department told state senators that CHG's measure deserved approval. The measure failed when General Motors and Honda raised safety concerns about the device.
According to the documents investigators released Wednesday, Jaramillo received more than what was originally reported, as the charges cited checks totaling $7,000, $8,000 and $10,000. The alleged crimes occurred in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Sheriff's Department rules prohibit officers from accepting "any gift, gratuity, reward or other thing of value" that "might tend to influence directly or indirectly" the official actions of the officer or "cast an adverse reflection on the department."
His own department, the county grand jury and FBI have been investigating abuse-of-power and conflict-of-interest allegations against Jaramillo, some of which also involve his wife and former Carona fundraiser, Lisa Jaramillo. Jaramillo was escorted into the jail through a cordoned off area behind the facility. He was not wearing handcuffs as he was led inside, and he kept his head down and did not look at the horde of radio, television and print media kept at bay.Check back for breaking-news updates.In March, Jaramillo was fired from his $135,000-per-year post and the FBI raided his office. He had risen from an undistinguished career in the Garden Grove Police Department and parlayed a friendship with Carona into a plum political appointment: second in command at the $500 million-per-year agency.