State Suspects Cover-Up in O.C. Donations Case

Times Staff Writer

The state attorney general’s office suggests in court papers filed Tuesday that a prominent political consultant working for Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona tried to help cover up alleged illegal solicitations of campaign contributions.

The papers were filed in the case against Capt. Christine Murray, who was indicted two months ago by the attorney general on 16 misdemeanor counts of soliciting donations from fellow Sheriff’s Department employees.

Senior Assistant Atty. Gen. Gary W. Schons said in the papers that he had concluded that after his office began investigating the fundraising, Murray engaged in a cover-up with the help of Michael Schroeder, the former chairman of the California Republican Party who serves as a spokesman and advisor to Carona.


Schons based his allegation on a statement Schroeder gave to the Orange County Register in May, when the newspaper reported that the attorney general’s office was investigating Murray’s fundraising. It’s illegal for government employees to solicit campaign contributions from fellow employees.

In the Register article, Schroeder said Murray’s activities were independent of Carona’s reelection campaign and that she was asked to stop when the campaign heard about it.

“I caught wind of it and called her,” Schroeder is quoted as saying. “She confirmed she had asked for money. The situation was addressed and corrected.”

But three months later, Schroeder signed an affidavit saying he had been misquoted by the Register. He said Murray had actually told him she asked employees if they wanted to endorse the sheriff but had not asked them to make a monetary contribution.

Schons said he “viewed this as a clumsy and transparent attempt by Mr. Schroeder, in league with Murray, to cover up what had become an embarrassment for the campaign and for Murray,” the motion says. Further, Schons found it “dubious that a responsible news outlet like the Register would have so grossly misquoted Mr. Schroeder.”

“Surely, if Mr. Schroeder, a savvy political operative, had been misquoted by a newspaper reporter accusing a high-ranking sheriff’s officer and Carona campaign supporter of committing a crime,” either Schroeder, Murray or a representative would have immediately sought a correction, and not have waited three months to finally set the record straight, “when a criminal prosecution was imminent.”

Schroeder on Tuesday dismissed the allegation as baseless. He maintained that the Register misquoted him but that he didn’t seek a retraction because “I typically don’t in something like this.”

He said he found it regrettable that Schons “has elected to engage in such irresponsible speculation and conjecture.” He said Schons didn’t contact him about the matter.

Schroeder is a well-known political consultant in Orange County and considered a longtime leader in local Republican Party circles. He served as chairman of the state GOP in 1997. Now, he serves as an unpaid advisor both to Carona and Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

The Murray case is one of a series of legal proceedings involving the sheriff and his inner circle. George Jaramillo, who was fired as assistant sheriff, is facing bribery charges. The son of another former assistant sheriff is awaiting sentencing in a gang sex assault. The attorney general is also investigating complaints lodged by two women who say Carona sexually harassed them. And a reserve deputy who also was the sheriff’s martial arts instructor is facing felony charges for allegedly pulling his service revolver on a group of golfers he thought were playing too slowly.

The motion filed Tuesday by the attorney general’s office -- in opposition to Murray’s request that the case be dismissed -- reveals that an internal sheriff’s review found that Murray had improperly downloaded an employee list with home addresses and telephone numbers from a computer in the sheriff’s executive office. It says she used the information to solicit donations.

The attorney general agreed to investigate the case because of the potential conflict of interest created by Schroeder’s dual roles as an advisor to Carona and Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

An attorney general’s investigator contacted 48 officers and employees. Of those, 18 said they’d been asked for a contribution. In follow-up interviews, two later changed their stories.

Schons tried unsuccessfully several times to get Murray’s side of the story, the motion says. One of her attorneys finally sent him a letter that included Schroeder’s affidavit and nine identical “form” affidavits that Schons believes were drafted by someone other than the employees who signed them.

Each affidavit attested that Murray had called seeking an endorsement for Carona but did not ask for cash and that she had advised those she called that the sheriff would not accept contributions from employees.

Schons noted that this contradicted the sheriff’s own campaign reports, which show that Murray and at least one other employee had each donated $100 to Carona.

He also concluded that Murray did not appear apologetic and was “prepared to mislead if not outright lie to avoid responsibility.”

Murray’s attorney, Jennifer Keller, is working on a trial and could not be reached.