Last spring, then-newly named Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky sat face-to-face with me in a booth for lunch at Original Mike's restaurant in Santa Ana. The in-depth FBI corruption probe into Galisky's boss, Sheriff Michael S. Carona, was hardly a secret. I'd asked Galisky for the meeting because the sheriff had quietly created a No. 2 slot at the Orange County Sheriff's Department for her, his most loyal soldier.
Watching our sheriff's moves—and not his words—was important. Carona has always sold the public lies through his own charisma and the weight of the badge on his chest. He sold us his handpicked assistant sheriffs Don Haidl and George Jaramillo, both of whom were later nabbed in bribery schemes. He sold us defense lawyer Joe Cavallo, his longtime drinking/camping/plotting pal who recently pleaded guilty to running a bail-bonds scheme in Carona's jail.
And, of course, Carona sold himself. Literally.
Promoted on April 20, Galisky took over Carona's internal and external sales department. According to high-placed law-enforcement sources, she used spy equipment on deputies to help enforce her dictate that they were to keep their mouths shut to outsiders or risk their careers. She oversaw efforts to undermine unflattering reports by Christine Hanley at the Los Angeles Times and by me. She used more pliable reporters in print, radio and television to hail her scandal-scarred boss as either (I don't know which is funnier) a victim of unscrupulous people or a supercop. She performed her tasks with the same degree of finesse that she has college experience: none.
Yet Galisky was crafty enough to ingratiate herself with Mike Schroeder, the Santa Ana chiropractic-insurance king and unofficial-yet-potent Republican Party operative to Carona, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, state Senator Dick Ackerman, state Assemblyman Van Tran and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Schroeder is a legendary kingmaker in Orange County politics. Behind the scenes, he'd been praising Galisky as the appropriate heir to the throne atop the $700 million police agency. But he knew he faced a likely insurmountable obstacle: The unmarried Galisky would never gain the favor of the "Back Bay boys," the wealthy Newport Beach conservatives whose campaign contributions often determine winners in local elections. Nevertheless, Schroeder insisted to me that Galisky had the leadership skills to become a fine sheriff.
Just as Carona/Schroeder planned, Galisky is now temporarily running the Sheriff's Department on a day-to-day basis while the sheriff battles FBI charges that he repeatedly used his office to obstruct justice, appoint criminals to high positions and accept bribes.
During the first 30 minutes of my lunch with the undersheriff, I wondered if Schroeder's praise had merit. Galisky sipped on iced tea, ate salad and traded mostly friendly chitchat. In comparing our respective sleep habits, she called me a "pussy." It was my turn to smile.
But when the conversation turned to her boss, Galisky's demeanor changed. Like a tired prep-school teacher confronting a disobedient student, she placed on the table between us a copy of my April article "Blazing Saddles! Sheriff Carona takes his posse on a European tour. " She leaned forward, clasped her hands and sighed.
The story questioned Carona's use of more than $25,000 in taxpayer funds to take himself and several staffers (including Galisky) to London and Paris earlier this year. With the FBI on his heels, the sheriff claimed he wanted to learn how New Scotland Yard and Interpol capture terrorists and organized-crime figures. In the article, I'd wondered how Carona had passed security background checks at the two agencies given that he brazenly collects criminal pals (including at least one Chicago Mafia associate) like other people collect grocery-store coupons.
I also noted that the last time he traveled to Europe at public expense, a young Russian woman ended up in his Moscow hotel room wearing little more than the top half of our self-described "Christian conservative" sheriff's uniform. On another day during the same trip, another photograph obtained exclusively by OCWeekly shows a delighted Carona affectionately embracing the same woman on the street. Confronted with the photographs, Carona spent days scrambling for an explanation, consulted with lawyers (also at public expense) and finally declared the woman merely an "interpreter."
The article annoyed Galisky. Before arriving for lunch, she'd taken a yellow highlighter and marked her objections. There was a lot of yellow. For example, she asserted that Carona has never worried about his image because he never does anything wrong. I explained why I was certain the sheriff was a scoundrel. (Sheriff: If you're going to habitually cheat on your wife, do it on your own dime, pal.) Galisky listened, argued and sighed again. I was living in a fantasyland, she said. It was my credibility versus the sheriff's.
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A smile—or was it a smirk?—appeared on her face. As if concerned for my well-being, Galisky paused before delivering the bad news. By relentlessly challenging Carona's ethics, she said, I'd embarrassed myself publicly.
Finally, she declared: Nobody believes you!
Now that blemish-free federal prosecutors, FBI agents and a federal grand jury have finally joined me in declaring Carona a crook, here's another question: Who can believe Jo Ann Galisky?