Key Witnesses to Testify in the Carona Corruption Trail

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Key witnesses to testify in the Carona corruption trail

 MICHAEL WEBSTER: INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER

Nov 2, 2008 at 5:30 PM PST

 Former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo and his sister-in-law Erica Lynne Hill and controversial attorney Joseph Cavallo, who defended Gregory Haidl against sexual-assault charges, and was also indicted by the Orange County grand jury on conspiracy charges involving a scheme referring clients to bail bondsmen.

All three are expected to be called as explosive witnesses this week in the former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona’s corruption trail being heard at the Federal District Court in the Ronald Reagan Federal building in downtown Santa Ana California.  Jaramillo a one-time close friend of Carona, has pleaded guilty in the case. In the plea, Jaramillo admitted that he had collected cash and gifts worth about $45,000 and had filed false income tax returns concealing the income.

The former assistant sheriff secretly pleaded guilty in March to federal tax evasion and mail fraud, and agreed to cooperate in a growing federal investigation of corruption in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, according to the plea agreement.

Jaramillo, who was once promised by Carona to be the front-runner as the sheriff would resign for another post would help Jaramillo to succeed Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona. But has since agreed to cooperate fully with investigations underway by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the IRS, according to the deal he signed in March.

Federal investigators said “were asking questions about Carona’s activities since he was elected sheriff.” Investigators asked Jaramillo specifically about “gifts and monies” Carona had received.

Jaramillo and prosecutors reached the plea agreement some time ago. It was sealed while investigators continued to pursue the case against Carona but was made public at his arraignment.

Jaramillo and his sister-in-law were arrested for alleged fraud, misappropriation of government funds and felony conflicts of interest. Both appeared before Orange County Superior Court Judge Marc Kelly for their arraignments.

Jaramillo, 44, was charged with six felony counts of misappropriating government funds and four misdemeanor counts of conflicts of interest, while Hill, 33, faced three felony counts for misappropriating government funds. Hill and Jaramillo had pleaded not guilty to all charges. Later both cut deals with the state and the U.S. Attorneys office and Jaramillo plead guilty in state court. Hill along with Jaramillo testified before an Orange County Grand Jury.    

Following Hills grand jury testimony and the DA’s decision to drop the charges against her, Hill thought it was over and that what she said would be sealed and she could get on with her life. Then more news reports come out, and the spotlight was back on her. Hill complained, “I didn’t ask for this. I want it to go away, but I’m very tired of being kicked around.” The testimony that Hill gave to the grand jury is expected to come up at the current trail where defense lawyers will grill her and are expected to challenge her and Jaramillo creditability.

Hill told the grand jury that Jaramillo—11 years her senior—had begun an “inappropriate” relationship with her when she was around 15 years old. Questioned by Deputy District Attorney Brian Gurwitz, Hill wouldn’t use the word “molestation” but did concede that the “sexual conduct, contact” began before she was an adult.

Hill further testified to the grand jury that Sheriff Carona, who at the time was seeking a third term as head of the $500 million-per-year agency. Under oath, she told the grand jury the sheriff pressured her for sex after she asked Carona to hire her husband as a deputy. Hill recalls Carona smiling, flirting and asking, “What’s in it for me?”

According to Hill she watched the sheriff’s men go on the offensive against her. Their remarks prompted her to fire back. In a two-page Sept. 13 letter to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the county Board of Supervisors, two local members of Congress and the media, she asked that Carona be held accountable for his conduct. It is also believed she filed a complaint with the FBI. According to sources close to the investigation it is believed that the newly elected California Attorney General and former Governor Pat Brown were also looking into the whole matter.

Attorney Cavallo, and others have been cooperating with the federal government in the corruption case against Carona.  Cavallo, who gained notoriety representing the son of the formerassistant sheriff and the governments star witness Don Haidl in a sexual assault case, has been forced to surrender his  license to practice law  by the State Bar of California, which will ultimately determine whether he should be disbarred

Cavallo, 52, could have been sentenced to more than three years in prison after pleading guilty earlier this year to three felonies in a kickback scheme in which he paid $50,000 to the Xtreme Bail Bonds agents for inmate referrals between June 2003 and August 2005.