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Jaramillo wants state to take case

Times Staff Writer

Lawyers for a former Orange County assistant sheriff, who is accused of corruption and faces other charges, filed a legal motion this week requesting that the district attorney’s office be recused from the case because of the strong political ties between Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Michael S. Carona.

The attorneys for George Jaramillo cited Rackauckas’ and Carona’s close relationships with GOP political consultant Michael S. Schroeder as just one of several conflicts that could prevent their client from receiving a fair trial.

They seek a special hearing Dec. 8 to argue that Rackauckas and his office should be disqualified and replaced by California’s attorney general as prosecutor.

“It is rare that such ties and entanglements exist between a district attorney and a defendant within his inner circle,” the motion states. “It is most suspect that, this being the reality the district attorney is faced with, that he not recuse himself and his office.”

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If a hearing is granted, the defense team plans to call the district attorney, the sheriff, Schroeder and others as witnesses to testify about their relationships and other potential conflicts.

Jaramillo was fired in March 2004 and later charged with taking bribes, obstruction of justice and conflict of interest related to his work as a paid consultant for CHG Safety Technologies Inc., a Newport Beach firm seeking to promote a laser device designed to stop cars fleeing from police.

He is also accused of lying twice to a grand jury, using a department helicopter for personal travel, and ordering deputies to develop his film, research convalescent homes for his mother and attend a relative’s graduation ceremony.

The motion, one of a series filed Monday by Jaramillo’s defense team, is the latest salvo in a colorful legal drama that has unfolded fitfully in the nearly three years since Jaramillo was dismissed.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Brian Gurwitz, a prosecutor in the case, on Tuesday dismissed the Jaramillo motion as “fraudulent” and called it a “political stunt.”

“We’d simply remind the public that this is the same person the grand jury has already indicted for twice committing perjury,” Gurwitz said.

Assistant Sheriff Jo Ann Galisky, spokeswoman for Carona, had not seen the motion but said she would put little stock in any of Jaramillo’s arguments because “he’d say whatever served his purpose.”

The motion to recuse the district attorney’s office takes particular aim at Schroeder, describing him as the political “kingmaker” behind both the district attorney and the sheriff.

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Schroeder is a well-known political consultant in Orange County and was chairman of the state GOP in 1997. He now serves as an unpaid political advisor both to Carona and Rackauckas. His wife, Susan Kang Schroeder, is the spokeswoman for the district attorney.

Jaramillo’s attorneys argue in the motion that their client fell out of favor with Schroeder and the others for several reasons, including his siding with another former assistant sheriff, Don Haidl, when Haidl’s son was being prosecuted in a high-profile sexual assault case.

The feud also was fueled, the motion alleges, by Jaramillo’s desire to run for sheriff or possibly district attorney.

“These facts ... jeopardized Schroeder’s political plans to groom Rackauckas and Carona for state and national leadership and introduced a previously nonexistent threat to their positions, in the form of George Jaramillo,” the motion states. “The sequence and timing of events leave no doubt the prosecution of Jaramillo by Schroeder’s lieutenants, Carona and Rackauckas, stems from their desire for retribution.”

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Schroeder on Tuesday called Jaramillo a “one-hit wonder who claims that every prosecution of his conduct is some sort of elaborate political conspiracy.”

“This is no different,” he said. “There’s not a shred of truth or a shred of evidence to any of these claims.”

Other alleged conflicts addressed in the motion are ties between Carona, Rackauckas and Charles Gabbard, the owner of CHG Technologies and key witness in the case against Jaramillo. Gabbard contributed to the campaigns of Carona and Rackauckas.

Gabbard, who admitted illegally funneling thousands of dollars into Carona’s 2002 campaign, was granted criminal immunity in exchange for his testimony against Jaramillo.

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Other alleged conflicts cited by Jaramillo include the once-close relationship that he and his wife, Lisa, had with Rackauckas and his wife, Kay.

Lisa Jaramillo served as Rackauckas’ fundraising chairwoman for more than a year. The couples regularly socialized, and Rackauckas consulted with and confided in Jaramillo regarding many issues, the motion states.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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