It took a federal court order, but Mike Carona is finally a one-woman man.
At least temporarily.
The indicted ex-Orange County sheriff will have to adjust to that painful reality thanks to a mid-trial ruling.
Federal Judge Andrew Guillford removed as a defendant Debra V. Hoffman--Carona's top mistress and, according to federal prosecutors, a co-conspirator in a sensational public-corruption case. Over the government's objections, Guilford granted a late defense motion to sever Hoffman from the case for "issues of efficiency" and to protect "constitutional rights." The matter rose as it became clear the two defense teams were working at odds with each other.
The judge's ruling put a smile on Hoffman's face. She grabbed an oversized purse and a jumbo See's Candies shopping bag, shot Carona an elated facial expression, ignored a nearby Debbie Carona (the sheriff's wife), and left the courtroom with her federal public defender. Hoffman later returned to the courtroom and sat in the front row.
The ramifications of the move aren't yet known, but there's a sense on the media bench that Carona's defense may seek a mistrial this week based on the harm Hoffman's defense attorney, Sylvia Torres-Guillen, repeatedly inflicted on Carona's cries of innocence.
But Hoffman's smile might not last long. Prosecutor Brett Sagel indicated to Guillford that the government plans to pursue Hoffman in a separate trial. Among the alleged crimes: she lied in bankruptcy court about the more than $65,000 she'd received from Don Haidl, a wealthy businessman and Carona backer who says he funneled the money to the sheriff's mistress as a favor to OC's top cop.
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Fun tidbit: The defense's insistence on severing Hoffman from the trial came shortly after Peggy Haidl, who is on the witness stand today, testified that "four or five times" she received handwritten instructions on hotel stationery from the mistress.
Prosecutors asked Haidl, then the secretary of the secretive Mike Carona Foundation, if she knew why Hoffman sent orders regarding foundation cash on different hotel letterhead.
Peggy Haidl replied, "To let me know she's at the hotel with the sheriff."
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly