Even during the five years that he held the unearned rank of assistant sheriff thanks to illegally funding Mike Carona's 1999 campaign for sheriff, Don Haidl hated public speaking.
Reporters could ask questions of Haidl–a wealthy Newport Coast used car salesman by trade–and receive a bad-ass stare or profanity-laced mumbling in return.
So, it was no surprise this afternoon when a relatively mum Haidl appeared in the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana to face punishment for committing income-tax evasion.
Though at least on paper he faced prison, he spoke three sentences with a total of 10 words–actually, six words if you omit the two times he said, “Your honor.”
By his own admissions, Haidl's true crimes were much worse than cheating on Tax Day.
He'd paid monthly cash bribes to Carona and George Jaramillo, the second in command at the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD), in exchange for a badge, high rank, patrol car, arrest powers and insider influence–not bad for a man without an iota of police experience.
He'd also provided the top OCSD duo with private jets, free expensive suits, casino chips, dinners, drinks, hotel rooms and the payment of more than $65,000 to keep the sheriff's top mistress happy.
But after the IRS criminal division nailed him, Haidl agreed to become a secret government agent. He recorded Carona as “America's Sheriff” wondering aloud in private how to thwart a federal grand jury probing his corruption.
It worked. A jury convicted the sheriff last year on jury tampering charges, U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford sentenced him to prison and we're now waiting for an appellate court to rule on Carona's appeal. It's fair to say that Haidl was the government's chief witness.
Today, Haidl's good deed paid off. Guilford could have sentenced him to six months in federal prison, but opted to punish him with 200 hours of community service, two years' worth of probation and a $40,000 fine to Uncle Sam.
(It obviously helped Haidl that he had Assistant United States Attorney Brett Sagel on his side.)
Noting Haidl's cooperation with IRS and FBI agents, Guilford called the punishment both “significant” and “just.”
“Mr. Haidl, I thought you did an extraordinary job on the witness stand [during Carona's trial],” the judge said. “You've learned your lesson, and we do not face the risk of you engaging in this conduct again.”
Guilford noted that Haidl had also aided federal authorities with “a matter back East,” but didn't elaborate.
Haidl, in slicked back, thinning hair and a dark suit, thanked the judge–and then shut up.
Guilford saved his scathing words for “bad cops across the country.”
He said that by substantially rewarding Haidl for snitching, he's sending a message that dirty police officers can't ever feel comfortable that their crimes will remain hidden.
“I think that [rewarding Haidl and other cops who step forward about police corruption] can be an effective tool to break the code of silence in law enforcement,” said Guilford. “I hope the word gets out.”
(rscottmoxley @ ocweekly dot com)