[Vision2020] Another Conservative Hypocrite/Crook
Gray Tree Crab aka Big Bertha
gray.treecrab.aka.big.bertha at gmail.com
Fri Dec 28 16:30:25 PST 2007
"America's Sheriff" Michael S. Carona in a starring role, co-starring
Businessman Donald Haidl, Attorney Joseph G. Cavallo and Asst. Sheriff
George Jaramillo, a story best explained by alcoholism run amok
November 9, 2007 at 12:47 pm · Filed under 1 - Top
"America's Sheriff" Michael S. Carona: Is He Merely Corrupt, or is He
Alcoholic? Orange County, CA Sheriff Michael S. Carona, 52, was once dubbed
"America's Sheriff" by Larry King, courted by former White House aide Karl
Rove and groomed as a prospective Republican candidate for Lieutenant
Governor of CA. He gained nationwide recognition after leading the search
for the kidnapper of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in 2002. Carona, *who is a
self-styled "conservative Christian," *now faces federal charges on 10
counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and tampering with a grand jury witness.
His wife, Deborah Carona, 56, has been indicted on one count of conspiracy.
His alleged long-time former mistress, attorney Debra V. Hoffman, 41, has
been charged on eight counts of ...
*From the Los Angeles Times*
The mistress, the wife and the O.C. sheriff Federal indictment, friends and
colleagues draw a complicated portrait of Michael Carona, once called
'America's Sheriff.' DISCUSS
By Garrett Therolf, Stuart Pfeifer and Christine Hanley
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
December 28, 2007
[image: Lives linked]Email
*LIVES LINKED:* Debra Hoffman, left, and Deborah Carona appear in an undated
photograph. Both women are named in an indictment with Orange County Sheriff
Michael S. Carona.
Preparations were underway for Deborah Carona's 50th birthday party when the
host learned who would be attending the party. He was stunned.
Among the guests invited to the celebration for the wife of Orange County
Sheriff Michael S. Carona was the lawman's mistress, Debra V. Hoffman.
"I said, 'If you're going to invite her, I'm not going to have it at my
house,' " Joseph Cavallo said he told the sheriff, then a close friend and
political ally. The two have since parted ways and Cavallo was recently
sentenced to jail in a kickback scheme involving bail bond agents.
The sheriff relented and Hoffman did not attend.
But friends and associates of the sheriff said the 2001 birthday bash --
midway into Carona's first term and not long before Larry King dubbed him
"America's sheriff" -- was indicative of the frenzied lifestyle that Carona
was juggling as he ran the state's second-largest sheriff's department.
Deborah Carona was a member of a moneyed and prominent family that was
mentioned as a point of reference in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great
Gatsby." Debra Hoffman was a struggling but charming attorney, 15 years
younger than the sheriff's wife. Their lives bumped together often.
Both women appeared at official functions together, the wife often sitting
in the first row, Hoffman in the second. Photographers working for the
Sheriff's Department sometimes snapped photos of the two women together and
sometimes of both posing with the sheriff.
But just beyond public view, associates say, the sheriff's behavior with his
mistress was reckless, even defiant: a trip to Las Vegas, text messages and
Now, Carona, his wife and mistress have been accused in a broad public
conspiracy case that alleges that the sheriff sold his office for a stream
of gifts and money. All three have pleaded not guilty and said they expect
to prevail at trial. Carona, his wife and Hoffman all declined to be
interviewed for this story.
On the morning after he was charged, Carona was ushered into a courtroom
ordinarily reserved for drug runners, bank robbers -- the sorts of criminals
the sheriff had spent years trying to sweep off the streets.
The two Debbies sat nearby. Like the sheriff, they were in handcuffs.
Twenty-year-old Mike Carona was stuck stocking shelves at the Sunrise Market
in Los Angeles County, working alongside his teenage wife and trying to make
ends meet. But his young wife said in an interview with the Times that she
knew Carona already had his eyes on another woman.
The other woman was Deborah Belasco, the daughter of a former California
deputy attorney general and a member of a theater family that is mentioned
in Fitzgerald's novel and included the prolific playwright and theater owner
Carona's then-wife, Janna, said she suspected she was losing her husband
just six months after they married in 1975. She noticed a canceled check for
flowers she never received. Half a year later, the marriage was over.
She chalked it up to her husband's ambition. He was "kind, positive and
upbeat," but he played "all the right cards, all the time," she said. "That
was just his personality."
Carona took a job as a deputy marshal in 1977, spending the next decade
working his way up the chain of command.
Debbie Belasco's best friend at the time, Nancy Clark, said she has no idea
whether Belasco became romantic with Carona while he was still married.
"I just remember they were very, very happy and very in love," Clark said.
Clark said they enjoyed a romance with simple pleasures and that Belasco
never flaunted her family's connections.
"None of us had much money back then. So we would get together and eat
spaghetti, go to the beach and listen to music," she said.
Belasco was an admirer of Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris, lived in a
spartan Newport Beach apartment and drove "some old beater" around the
county. "She was sort of a hippie," Clark said.
When Belasco married Carona in 1980, Clark helped her plan a modest ceremony
for about 100 guests at an Irvine park. It was followed by a reception with
music by a local rock band.
The new Deborah Carona worked at the public defender's office for a couple
of years before becoming a probation officer. One of her old bosses
remembers her well. "Even though you could tell she came from money, she
dealt very well with people on probation and didn't mind doing it at all,"
said Harold Cook. "She was very polite and never dressed flashy. She sort of
dressed like the Kennedy women."
As Mike Carona climbed the ladder at the Orange County marshal's office, his
wife maintained her job and focused on raising their son. "She was very much
a background person," said Clark, who is an advocate for alternative
sentences for drug offenders. "A lot of women in this county would have had
some creases erased from their face and go shopping. She didn't do that."
But one former co-worker said Deborah Carona's work began to slacken after
her husband became Orange County sheriff in 1999.
"She basically didn't work," said Bruce Moore, a retired probation officer
who worked in a cubicle alongside her before she retired in 2004 after 25
years. Her days started late and ended early, he said, adding she was rarely
seen with anyone on probation who was assigned to her caseload.
Several other people who socialized with the Caronas described the sheriff's
wife as dour, driven and enamored with the power and perks of her husband's
job. Friends, however, strongly reject such descriptions, saying she may be
reserved, but is a warm stalwart for those close to her. She was a fitness
enthusiast, partial to the stationary bike. At her gym, she was the sit-up
champion, able to complete more than 300 at a time.
When her husband launched his 1998 campaign for sheriff, Moore said, she
began to talk to co-workers about the favors that came with politics, such
as dinners on expensive yachts in Newport Beach hosted by his supporters.
Moore said she arrived at work one day in a St. John Knits suit that she
said had been given to her by a donor. "It caused something of a commotion
among the women in the office," Moore said.
According to the federal corruption indictment that landed the sheriff, his
wife and his mistress in court, Deborah Carona accepted a $1,500 St. John
Knits suit and a $15,000 gold and diamond Cartier watch from her husband's
supporters, gifts beyond the legal limit which the couple failed to report
on financial disclosure forms.
In 2001, the sheriff persuaded then-Gov. Gray Davis to appoint his wife to
the board of directors that oversees the Orange County Fair and Exposition
Center, a sprawling piece of property in Costa Mesa that is home to the
county fair, weekly swap meets and summertime concerts.
While serving on the fair board this year, Deborah Carona voted to allow a
paintball company to open a business on the property, according to board
records. Federal prosecutors allege in the indictment that officials with
the paintball business had paid $25,000 in cash to a Carona associate in
2000 after learning that Carona would use his influence as sheriff to assist
the paintball business.
"I don't believe a word of it," Clark said. "There is no way that Debbie is
a cold, calculating, manipulative person."
Carona met Debra Hoffman during his campaign for sheriff in 1998. Hoffman
operated a law firm with George Jaramillo, then one of Carona's key
supporters. The law office became a frequent meeting spot for Carona
strategists during the campaign.
Some said Hoffman looked much like Carona's wife when she was younger.
Despite Hoffman's concerns about the commotion the campaign caused at the
law firm, it wasn't long before she and Carona became close, according to
several people who knew the couple.
After Carona took office in 1999, he and Hoffman were seen together on trips
to Las Vegas and Sacramento, according to sources familiar with the trips
who asked not be identified because they didn't want their statements to
become a part of the case. She visited his office in the sheriff's
headquarters and changed her hairstyle and started wearing a vanilla-scented
perfume that Carona favored, the sources said.
One of Hoffman's old friends, who asked not to be identified because she
didn't want to be involved in the criminal case, said the couple referred to
one another in text messages as "LOML" -- "love of my life." They spoke
about a life together.
Like Carona, Hoffman was married. She and her husband, Robert Schroff, have
an 11-year-old daughter. In Carona's second year in office, the department
hired her husband, which entitled Hoffman and her daughter to medical
benefits. Schroff is still employed by the department, earning $55,000 per
year as a painter on the maintenance staff.
Hoffman's attorney, Sylvia Torres-Guillen of the Federal Public Defender's
Office, declined to comment on the facts of the case or on federal
prosecutors' unusual decision to describe Hoffman as the sheriff's "longtime
mistress" in the indictment.
"It's unfortunate that there is such a focus on the salacious details that
have nothing to do with the case. What we're interested in is telling the
jury what truly happened and why she's not guilty of the charges,"
In September 1999, an Orange County businessman gave Carona ringside tickets
to the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad boxing match at the Mandalay Bay
Events Centerin Las Vegas. Federal prosecutors allege that Carona failed to
report the fight tickets as a gift on his conflict-of-interest disclosure
forms filed in 2000.
According to sources familiar with that trip, the sheriff brought Debra
Hoffman with him and stayed at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He attended the
fight with Jaramillo while Hoffman and Jaramillo's wife went to see "O," the
long-running Cirque du Soleil show at the Bellagio.
The sheriff took steps not to be seen with Hoffman in public during the Las
Vegas getaway. He didn't take her to a dinner that weekend at Aqua
restaurant, but he left the table with an unopened bottle of wine, according
to the sources who asked not to be identified for fear their statements
could be used in court. According to a campaign finance statement, Carona
used campaign funds to pay a $577 dinner tab at Aqua between September and
One former Carona ally recalled a 1999 dinner party in Beverly Hills that
attracted television news cameras.
"I went and grabbed Debra Hoffman and pulled her away from Mike so they
wouldn't end up on TV together," he said.
In January 2000, Carona wrote Davis, recommending that Hoffman be named to
the California Council on Criminal Justice. Hoffman had no law enforcement
experience. According to state records, the sheriff and Hoffman sometimes
stayed at the same hotel when they went to Sacramento for meetings.
Hoffman seemed to struggle professionally. She was twice sued for legal
malpractice, court records show. In one case the firm agreed to pay $11,000
to settle a lawsuit brought by a former client, court records show. The
second case was dismissed and it is unclear if a settlement was paid because
the case file was destroyed.
As the firm foundered, so did Hoffman's finances. She and her husband
declared bankruptcy in 2001, listing $387,000 in debt and $24,000 in assets.
But the federal indictment suggests Carona helped provide a soft landing.
In the years leading up to the bankruptcy, her law firm accepted a $110,000
loan from Don Haidl, a wealthy businessman who helped bankroll Carona's
campaign and was later appointed assistant sheriff. Haidl also wrote Hoffman
seven checks totaling $65,000 in 1999 and 2000, according to the indictment.
Carona gave $6,500 to Hoffman in 2000, according to the indictment. By 2003,
Hoffman and her husband were living in a $1-million Newport Beach home owned
by a company controlled by David Gelbaum, a wealthy former hedge fund
manager who has donated more than $3 million to the Mike Carona Foundation,
which sends underprivileged children to camp.
Neither Gelbaum nor Hoffman would discuss the living arrangements. The house
is across the street from Gelbaum's primary residence.
According to Orange County property records, the home is owned by Kaziikini,
a limited liability company that Gelbaum founded that is also listed as the
owner of Gelbaum's residence.
Throughout the years, the two women seemed friendly toward each other. At
least in public.
At appearances, the Caronas acted "like any other couple who had been
married a long time," said a former sheriff's employee. "They were
considerate of each other and they'd talk. Mike was the ultimate politician
and he was always out working the room."
Privately, the Caronas were said to be bonded by their son, a bright,
athletic, outgoing and confident 17-year-old, according to those who know
The sheriff, whose first wife said he once balked at the thought of
fatherhood when he discovered her prenatal vitamins -- although she was not
pregnant -- is universally described as a warm and supportive parent. In
recent years, he spoke of writing a book on fatherhood. His wife is said to
be equally devoted.
In the weeks before the indictment, federal prosecutors gave Carona an
option to save his wife and mistress. If he were to plead guilty, they
wouldn't prosecute his wife and would be lenient to Hoffman, according to
sources familiar with the negotiations.
He chose to fight the charges.
After their first court hearing, Carona and his wife walked hand in hand
past a throng of television cameras and news reporters. Both held their
heads high, seemingly exuding confidence.
Hoffman trailed behind, a coat over her head, shielding her face from
onlookers, and hurried down the street.
garrett.therolf at latimes.com
stuart.pfeifer at latimes.com
christine.hanley at latimes.com
Researcher John Jackson contributed to this report.
Gray Tree Crab aka "Big Bertha"
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