Former O.C. Assistant Sheriff Jaramillo Arrested
Former Orange County Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo was charged Wednesday with misusing public funds as authorities took their first major step in a long-building corruption case that has been a political embarrassment to Sheriff Michael S. Carona.
Jaramillo, fired six months ago as Carona’s top aide, surrendered to authorities at Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana hours after learning a judge had signed an arrest warrant.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Oct. 01, 2004
He was charged with six felony counts of misappropriating public funds and four misdemeanor conflict-of-interest counts. If convicted, he could face a maximum of nine years in state prison and would be barred from holding elected office.
“I am deeply disappointed that someone I placed in a position of trust may have misused their position and is now accused of serious crimes,” Carona said in a prepared statement. “If these allegations are true, it is a sad day for law enforcement.”
Jaramillo, 44, arrived at the jailhouse with his sister-in-law Erica Hill, who was charged with three felony counts of misappropriation of public funds. They are accused of misusing county resources -- including squad cars, helicopters and on-duty deputies -- to stage demonstrations for a Newport Beach firm that was trying to interest law enforcement in one of its inventions. Jaramillo was being paid as a consultant by the firm, CHG Safety Technologies; Hill was an employee.
Jaramillo and Hill pleaded not guilty to all the charges and each was released on $25,000 bail. They left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Neither was jailed, though they had to briefly change into jail uniforms for their mug shots.
“My clients have been pillars of this community.... They have not committed any crimes,” said their attorney, Joe Smith, a former county prosecutor. “I can assure you at this point, my clients will be exonerated of these charges.”
Jaramillo’s arrest marked a fall for a man who was one of Carona’s confidants and viewed as the sheriff’s possible successor.
The case also has raised questions about Carona’s wisdom in appointing two friends and political boosters -- Jaramillo and Donald Haidl -- as assistant sheriffs.
Haidl, whose son is facing felony charges in a high-profile gang-rape case, quit the department last week.
In a criminal complaint filed by the Orange County district attorney’s office, Jaramillo is accused of misusing sheriff’s deputies, helicopters, patrol cars and other department resources to stage six events from 2000 to 2002 that promoted a laser device developed by CHG, of Newport Beach.
CHG, operated by a onetime Newport Beach City Council candidate, paid Jaramillo and his wife $25,000 as consultants. Hill, who worked as the company’s general manager, is accused of being an accomplice.
Charles Gabbard, owner of CHG, which was marketing a product designed to shut off the engines of cars being pursued by police, said he was saddened by the arrests.
Jaramillo, 44, told Carona in March or April 2000 that CHG wanted to hire him as a consultant, the criminal complaint says. At that time, Carona warned the assistant sheriff of a potential conflict of interest. Jaramillo never brought up the matter again, the complaint alleges.
When Jaramillo ordered six demonstrations from 2000 to 2002 of the product, Carona was unaware his aide was working as a consultant for the firm, the complaint says.
The sheriff didn’t know about his aide’s business relationship until earlier this year when he was shown a story in the alternative newspaper OC Weekly that revealed Jaramillo’s compensation, the complaint says. Jaramillo was fired days later.
Jaramillo has previously said that he checked into the propriety of accepting consulting fees, and filed a disclosure statement with the county reporting his business ties to CHG.
John Gladych, an attorney for CHG, said he was surprised that Jaramillo could be prosecuted for arranging the use of a sheriff’s cruiser and helicopter since Carona attended one of the initial demonstrations and was aware that county equipment was being used.
“That’s surprising, because [Gabbard] showed the electronic device to the FBI, CHP, the San Diego Police Department, Escondido Police Department, and they all provided the car and helicopter needed for the demonstrations at no cost,” Gladych said.
Jaramillo began his law enforcement career as a street officer in Garden Grove. He rose through the ranks until becoming a lieutenant, a post he held for all of one day before resigning.
He became Carona’s No. 2 person only after the sheriff convinced the Board of Supervisors to change the rules so that lieutenants could be named to the post. Before that, only those who had served as captains for two years in the department could be appointed assistant sheriff.
During his stint as an assistant sheriff, Jaramillo had several brushes with controversy. He was threatened with arrest in 2002 if he didn’t move from a VIP area when President Bush visited Orange County. Last year, he was ordered to reimburse the county $240 after having deputies give him and his wife a helicopter ride to the airport to catch a flight to Washington in time for an event at the White House.
Jaramillo also was accused of trying to prevent Newport Beach detectives from trying to interview Gregory Haidl, the son of his then-colleague Donald Haidl. Newport Beach Police Chief Robert J. McDonell wrote a letter to Carona to complain about the perceived interference.
Last October, sheriff’s deputies allegedly caught Gregory Haidl and two friends with a small amount of marijuana. Deputies did not arrest him on suspicion of drug possession, which could have led to revocation of his bail in the rape case, but instead drove him to his mother’s home.
That night, in a phone conversation that was tape-recorded, a sheriff’s lieutenant woke up Jaramillo to tell him what had happened. Jaramillo and the lieutenant allegedly agreed not to record the incident in the activity log in hopes that the news media would not learn of it.
That tape recording became a key part of the probe before the Orange County Grand Jury, which in a report last month said that Jaramillo and top-ranking members of the department had conspired in 2003 to conceal the drug incident.
Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this report.