Michael Carona sold badges, Don Haidl testifies

Newport Beach millionaire Don Haidl testified Friday that badges were for sale under the administration of former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, and that the shields for volunteer reserves were purposely changed to look exactly like those carried by sworn deputies because "that's what campaign contributors would like to have in their pocket."

Haidl, who was appointed by Carona to be the assistant sheriff and put in charge of the reserve division, told jurors that the initial group of reserve officers they recruited shortly after Carona's election were made up of 86 friends, relatives and business associates tied to the campaign.

Haidl said he and the sheriff eventually created a special category of reserve officers and filled it with wealthy executives who were issued badges but not required to complete the hundreds of hours in training that reserves needed to meet state guidelines for volunteer peace officers.

Carona also modified the policy for issuing permits to carry concealed weapons so that members of the special reserve unit, known as Professional Services Reserves, would automatically qualify, Haidl testified.

In his other testimony Friday, Haidl said that Carona received $2,500 in cash for persuading the widow of Deputy Brad Warner to hire Joe Cavallo as an attorney in a wrongful death lawsuit against a hospital that botched Warner's knee surgery. The money was part of a referral agreement reached between Carona, Cavallo, Haidl and former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, according to Haidl. After Cavallo won a settlement for the widow, the referral fee kicked back to Carona was funneled through one of Haidl's companies, he said.

Carona and his longtime mistress, Debra V. Hoffman, are on trial in federal court in Santa Ana on charges that they conspired with others to trade the powers of the sheriff's office for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts. Haidl has pleaded guilty to lesser tax charges and agreed to testify against Carona and Hoffman. Carona's wife is also charged, but will be tried separately.

Haidl has been on the witness stand since Tuesday. When he agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, he went undercover and wore a wire during three meetings with Carona in the summer of 2007.

Haidl has already testified that he bribed Carona with cash payments of $1,000 on a monthly basis for more than three years, provided Carona with access to his private jets and yacht and paid for vacations and other items.

Most of Haidl's testimony focused on the reserve program. Haidl elaborated on how one of its primary purposes was to recruit wealthy Orange County citizens who could help build Carona's political war chest.

Among the reserve officers referred by Carona were philanthropist David Gelbaum and Broadcom co-founder and Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli. In discussions with Carona about both businessmen, Haidl testified, Carona talked about how much money they had.

If problems surfaced regarding a reserve officer's background, Haidl said, he and Carona would meet to discuss whether it was worth cleaning up their files and getting them into the program. Factors that would be weighed, according to Haidl, included whether they were allies and how much they might contribute to Carona's campaigns.

All reserve officers were asked to sign "nonpolitical" forms stating that they had not been required to make a campaign contribution as part of their appointment, Haidl said. This was done so that if any of them came forward later and said they bought a badge, there would be a document in their file stating otherwise, he said.

The Times reported in 2005 that Carona had appointed 86 reserve officers shortly after his first election and issued them badges without proper background checks or training. At the time and afterward, Carona denied that he doled out badges as political favors.

Hanley is a Times staff writer


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