Indicted O.C. sheriff set to return to work

Indicted O.C. sheriff set to return to work
Sheriff Carona in November 2007 as he left the Ronald Reagan Federal Court Building in Santa Ana. (Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times)
Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona intends to return to work Monday, ending a 60-day paid leave of absence initiated after he was charged with corruption in a federal grand jury indictment.

It remained unclear how much time Carona would spend in the sheriff's Santa Ana headquarters when he returns to work.

In a statement, the department said Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky would continue to handle day-to-day operations after Carona's return.

Federal prosecutors allege that Carona sold access to his office in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts -- including World Series and Las Vegas boxing tickets -- and failed to report them on state conflict-of-interest disclosure forms.

Carona's wife, Deborah, and former mistress, Debra V. Hoffman, were also named in the indictment.

After pleading not guilty to the charges in November, Carona announced that he would take the paid leave "in order to devote my full time and energy toward battling the untrue and baseless charges made against my wife, Debbie and me."

His attorney said the sheriff has been working diligently on his defense during the last two months. Some members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors criticized Carona's decision to take a leave of absence, saying it amounted to an abandonment of his duties.

Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach had proposed giving the board the authority to remove Carona or any indicted elected county official from office, a step supervisors did not take.

On Thursday, Moorlach and Supervisor Chris Norby said they still believed the sheriff should step down. The union that represents Orange County sheriff's deputies has also called on Carona to resign.

"When you're distracted, it's really hard to do your job," Moorlach said. "So we're not going to get a full sheriff while he's in the middle of this process."

Carona, as an elected sheriff, is paid a salary and can work as much or as little as he wants without taking vacation, sick time or leave.

State law allows for the removal of an elected official who vacates office for 90 consecutive days. All Carona would have to do is place a single business-related telephone call to avoid that consequence, Norby said.

Even though he would prefer it if Carona resigned, Norby said, he was pleased that the sheriff had chosen to end his leave of absence.

"The taxpayers expect that everyone that gets paid by the county will perform their services. So it's good that he is doing that," Norby said. "But the weight of the indictment must be difficult for him personally and for the department as a whole.

"This has created a cloud over the department, and that cloud will be there for many months ahead. If a trial goes forward, it's going to be a long, long haul."

The department ran smoothly during Carona's leave of absence, Galisky said through a department spokesman.

With a budget of $707 million, 3,400 employees and 1,800 sworn deputies, the Orange County Sheriff's Department is the second-largest in California.

Among the issues that Carona will face upon his return are efforts to expand the department's crime lab and an attempt by the Board of Supervisors to reduce pension benefits paid to sheriff's deputies.

Carona attorney Dean Steward said the paid leave proved to be extraordinarily valuable to the defense. The sheriff helped analyze thousands of pages of investigative records that prosecutors provided to defense attorneys, Steward said.

"There has not been a day, with the possible exception of Christmas Day, when I have not been in touch with Mike," Steward said. "He probably spent 95% of his time with us. It was a terrific luxury to have a client so focused and so helpful."

Carona is scheduled to stand trial June 10.