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Once dubbed "America's Sheriff," Mike Carona was sentenced this afternoon to 66 months--or 5 1/2 years--behind bars, two years probation after he serves the prison time and a $125,000 fine for attempting to sabotage a grand jury investigation into abuse of power and bribery at the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford said during his sentencing that he didn't understand the "unrestrained celebrations" after Carona's guilty verdict, in which Carona was cleared of several other corruption charges.
In January, a cheerfully weepy Carona stood outside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse and declared that God, working through an Orange County jury, had provided him "a miracle" and "vindicated" him of any criminal conduct.
"A wrong message was sent regarding respect for the law and the jury system," said Guilford. "Carona has given no indication he wouldn't ask someone again to lie."
Carona's attorney, Jeffrey Rawitz, took the blame today for the celebrations, calling them a result of his own lack of experience as a criminal defense lawyer. "I'm responsible for that. We thought he was going to be convicted," Rawitz told the judge. "I should have been more diligent taking control of that situation."
Perhaps later laying the groundwork for an appeal, which Carona must file for within the next 10 days, Rawitz said, "I was not experienced enough as a criminal defense lawyer. I should have said, 'Keep your mouth shut.' But that relates to me, not Mr. Carona, because I didn't explain to him that he was exposed to these numbers."
The judge, saying he understood his numbers would be hard on Carona's family, remarked, "The Bureau of Prisons will protect Mr. Carona, just as Carona protected inmates under his care." The judge added he would inform the bureau to take into account Carona's former career as a law enforcement officer.
Carona was given until July 24 to turn himself in. That will allow him to be out on bond to attend his son's graduation.
Courtroom observers reported Carona looked "stoic" during sentencing while his wife and one-time co-defendant Debbie appeared "very sad."
According to the Orange County Register's occrimescene, which was Twittering the sentencing hearing, Guilford said Carona's crime hurt the community. "Lying will not be tolerated in this courtroom," the judge said, ". . . especially by the county's leading law enforcement officer. . . . The Mike Carona we see telling someone to lie speaks poorly of your characteristics."
Prosecutors Brett Sagel and Ken Julian had sought 108 months or nine years in prison for the man CNN's Larry King called "America's Sheriff" during the hunt for little Samanta Runnion's killer. That's 30 months more than what a federal probation officer recently recommended based on sentencing guidelines.
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Defense attorneys had urged probation for their client.
The Weekly's R. Scott Moxley, who attended the hearing, reported that Guilford dealt the defense a huge blow when he indicated earlier in the day that witness Don Haidl, Carona's former assistant sheriff, was credible. The defense had vehemently contended the multi-millionaire businessman who voluntarily ran Carona's reserve unit was a liar.
Secret recordings Haidl made for the FBI reveal the then-sheriff plotting to get Haidl to lie about bribery and gifts.
The courtroom was so packed this morning when Carona entered the media had to be sat in the jury box. He was cheerfully hugging and shaking the hands of people when he arrived, but Carona turned "very solemn" as the day's events unfolded.