Steve Julian | Susan Valot
November 11, 2008
The federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona resumes on Wednesday. Carona's accused of granting political favors in exchange for money and gifts. His former mistress, Debra Hoffman, is also on trial. Last week, the prosecution's star witness, former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl, testified as part of a plea deal. KPCC's Susan Valot is covering the trial and spoke with Morning Edition host Steve Julian about Haidl's testimony.
Haidl went through a bunch of canceled checks and talked about how he would get people, meaning family, and friends, and trusted business associates, to write $1,000 checks for Carona's election campaign in 1998.
And those people would bring him the checks, and he would reimburse them in cash in order to get that money, illegally, into Carona's election campaign. They were trying to get around election laws that limit campaign donations to $1,000 a person.
He also talked about his role as assistant sheriff in charge of the sheriff reserve, and how his role was to expand the reserves program to promote Carona. They planned to boost the reserves to a thousand people with something called the "Professional Service Reserves Program."
And the reserves had to be referred by Carona or the command staff, and Haidl says the goal was that each person who was in that reserves would give a thousand dollars campaign donation so they could raise $1 million for Carona's re-election campaign. They called it "a badge for money program."
Susan, the jurors heard taped conversations between Mike Carona and Don Haidl. How clear are these tapes? There's been a dispute over the transcription?
Yes. These tapes, when you're listening to the tapes in court – now they've only played a few clips of the tapes, they haven't played the tapes in their entirety yet – they're very noisy.
There's a lot of background noise, there's music, there's waitresses coming up, there's, you know, people talking in the background. And so the voices are very warbled. You can't, sitting in court, I have trouble determining what they're saying a lot of times. The jury is reading along with a transcript that is provided by the prosecution in this case.
Now, the defense attorneys want to be able to play the tapes in their entirety, and they have transcribed the tapes, but the prosecutors and the defense attorneys disagree on that transcription. And they've been told by the judge that, before Wednesday, to kind of come to an agreement on what this transcription should be.
Now, if they can't come to an agreement, the judge is going to have to step in and determine, you know, what, how it should be transcribed. The jury has been told not to use the transcripts as evidence, but just to use that to help them listen, and that the tapes themselves are the only evidence that they should be considering.
Who's taking the stand this week?
This week, Haidl likely will be on the stand for the duration of this week. Prosecutors still have not finished with him. They still have to finish their questioning, plus then you have the defense attorneys from both sides, both from Mike Carona and from Debra Hoffman – they're both facing trial at the same time, so you have both sets of defense attorneys who still have to question Haidl.
And the defense attorneys want to play all of those tapes, in their entirety, and from what I understand, there's about three hours of tapes there, so that's a lot to get through. And they only have Wednesday, Thursday, and they always have a half-day Friday, so we've only got about two and a half days this week.
Will Mike Carona testify on his own behalf?
That is not clear at this point. I think it will depend on whether the defense attorneys, how much they can discredit Haidl and the other witnesses. You've got to remember that Haidl is testifying as part of a plea deal in his own case.
He agreed to wear the wire; he agreed to testify against Carona in order to get himself a better deal with his own charges. So, the defense attorneys do have something to work with as far as discrediting him. And so, I think it will depend on how well they can do that as to whether Carona would take the stand.
KPCC's Susan Valot reporting on the ongoing federal corruption trial of former Orange County sheriff Mike Carona. Thanks very much.
Sure, no problem.