Carona fields few questions

Times Staff Writer

Flanked by two attorneys and a public relations advisor, Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona met with reporters one on one Tuesday, hours after he was named in a 10-count federal indictment accusing him of widespread corruption.

The 20 or so reporters waiting outside his office were expecting to hear his side of the story.

Each had a strictly enforced time limit of five minutes with the sheriff, just enough for two or three questions.


And there was no shortage of potential questions. The 29-page indictment names Carona; his wife, Deborah; his alleged mistress, Debra V. Hoffman; and others as conspiring to exploit his position for personal gain. It alleges that Carona was corrupt even before he was elected sheriff in 1998.

Former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo had accused him and Hoffman of being in an illicit relationship. Carona and Hoffman had issued vehement denials, attacking Jaramillo’s character and credibility in the process. But earlier Tuesday, one of his political advisors conceded that the affair had lasted about two years.

Why should anyone believe anything he said, Carona was asked, if the second paragraph in the indictment identified Hoffman as his “longtime mistress”?

Carona, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and cranberry red tie, stiffened in his chair.

“Next question. [No questions] about the facts of the case,” said his attorney H. Dean Steward before Carona could utter a “No comment” himself. “If you want to go into them, you’re wasting his time.”

Public relations advisor Jon Fleischman tried to steer the interview more to Carona’s liking. Why not ask him if he intends to resign? Fleischman suggested.

Jaramillo and Donald Haidl, another former assistant sheriff, struck plea bargains with federal authorities and cooperated in the FBI investigation of Carona. Haidl surreptitiously recorded at least one meeting with Carona. How did he feel about a once-trusted confidant turning on him? Carona was asked.


“No. Next question,” Steward said.

And so it went. Questions were shot down as quickly as they were asked. Finally, Carona was asked the question it had been suggested he would answer: Why is he not resigning?

“I do a good job as sheriff,” he said.