Dumb and Dumber
The stupidity of indicted ex-Sheriff Mike Carona, forever preserved on an FBI surveillance tape
The funniest part of newly released surreptitious FBI tapes isn't that indicted former Sheriff Mike Carona ordered cocktails served in “special” glasses designed to appeal to women as he sat on the Bayside Café patio overlooking the yacht-loaded Newport Beach harbor on Aug. 13, 2007.
It isn't that Carona, who portrays himself to the public as a Christian closely following biblical scripture, cursed like a drunken sailor on a San Francisco day pass, repeatedly uttering such pleasantries as “shit,” “fuck,” “fucking” and “motherfucker.”
It isn't that Carona, aware the FBI was poised to out him as America's Dirtiest Sheriff, periodically paused from plotting obstruction-of-justice angles to flirt with a waitress.
It isn't that Carona expressed his “love” for that night's companion, Don Haidl—his crusty, chain-smoking pal, a man who made a fortune selling used government vehicles and illegally funded Carona's 1999 ascension to Orange County's top-cop spot in exchange for an assistant sheriff's badge.
It isn't that Carona sentimentally—no, really—recalled that the last place he's accused of accepting a folder stuffed with cash was Haidl's “really bitchen” Corona del Mar kitchen after Newport Beach police arrested Haidl's son, Greg, for videotaping his participation in the gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl.
It isn't even that Haidl, one of three men who've reluctantly admitted they were the sheriff's partners in crime, wore the wire.
The punch line is hilarious. A self-described genius who joined the high-IQ Mensa society to publicize his own brilliance, Carona has come face-to-face with his own stupidity. His own words eviscerated his defense team's plan to shift 100 percent of the blame for the illegal schemes to Carona's onetime pals: Haidl, attorney Joseph G. Cavallo and former deputy George Jaramillo. In short, he is the government's chief witness against himself.
Karma is alive and well.
Last month, Carona defense lawyers H. Dean Steward and Brian Sun argued that Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett A. Sagel violated ethical rules last year by tricking the then-sitting sheriff into speaking with Haidl about their criminal conduct and ways to thwart an FBI probe. Any government-inspired contact with their client should have been routed through them, they contend. Though a member of their team once bragged that the tapes exonerate Carona, the defense has abandoned that ruse. They now want federal judge Andrew J. Guilford to keep a possible future jury in the dark about the explosive contents.
In response, Sagel attached brief portions of the transcripts in a court filing on Feb. 8. The prosecutor argued that “the overwhelming body of federal case law holds that covert, non-custodial, pre-indictment recordings of conversations with [legally] represented persons” is permissible. He also reiterated his contention that Carona corrupted the Orange County Sheriff's Department in a hunt for more than $700,000 in bribes and gifts for himself, his wife and his top mistress.
After Carona's Halloween arrest, the defense team said Sagel was on a “witch-hunt,” tied him to nefarious motives, or labeled him incompetent. These transcripts underscore the hollowness of those attacks. Only true Carona Kool-Aid consumers such as Assistant Sheriff Jo Ann Galisky and Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson could even attempt to rationalize this true-crime dialogue:
“On my end, nothing's traceable,” Haidl said. “It's hidden.”
“Well, on . . . on my end of it, completely untraceable, completely untraceable,” replied the sheriff.
“So we're going to be facing these [FBI] guys at some point, I believe,” Haidl said.
“Oh, I guarantee it. Guaran-damn-tee it.”
“If we have different stories, they're going to . . .” Haidl trailed off.
“Amen. Amen,” Carona agreed.
Guilford is scheduled to rule on the defense motion to exclude the transcripts later this month. Regardless of the court decision, the damage in the community is done. Carona is now singed toast.
All of his captured words, all of his conniving, all of his fake smiles and tears, all of his grandstanding for sympathy, all the clever post-recording spin by Carona adviser Mike Schroeder won't put the former sheriff's reputation back together again.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.