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42 reserve sheriffs say badges lost

Times Staff Writers

More than 40 business executives and other professionals appointed as special reserve deputies by erstwhile Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona have reported their badges and IDs lost or stolen, including his chief political and legal advisor Michael Schroeder -- who lost two shields.

Others on the list include prominent developer Michael Harrah; father-son hotel developers who hosted a lavish fundraiser for Carona; the owner of a popular Italian restaurant where Carona regularly held court; and the operator of the swap meet at the Orange County Fair and Event Center, where Carona’s wife serves on the governing board.

The names of 42 so-called Professional Service Responders were obtained Thursday by The Times under a public records request. The Sheriff’s Department did not immediately release the stolen and lost property reports filed by these reserves, withholding them until certain personal information had been redacted.

Schroeder is one of the most prominent Carona allies on the roster. He contributed $3,200 to the ex-sheriff’s campaigns and became a reserve in 2000. A longtime political operative in Orange County, he has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for powerful Republicans, including Carona and Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

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Schroeder reported his first badge missing in January 2002, saying it might have been taken from his coat while he was at a barber shop, according to sheriff’s spokesman John McDonald. Schroeder was issued a new badge and lost that one in June 2007. McDonald said that he did not know the explanation for the second loss, but that Schroeder was not issued a third badge.

Schroeder is in China for the Summer Olympics and could not be reached for comment.

The Professional Service Responder ranks have long been riddled by controversy. Carona created the special category of reserves shortly after he took office nine years ago and filled it with some of the county’s richest and most powerful residents. Many are also campaign contributors, leading to allegations that Carona was doling out badges to allies.

Carona, who resigned in January and is facing trial on federal corruption charges, has denied handing out badges as political favors. But former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl has told federal agents that Carona gave badges to dozens of people in exchange for $1,000 donations to his first campaign in 1998.

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In one of her first acts in office, newly appointed Sheriff Sandra Hutchens announced last month that she is recalling all of the badges that Carona handed out to his Professional Service Responders, a group of about 400 volunteers.

Hutchens has said she wants to ensure that all volunteers are sincerely interested in public service, as well as to rid the program of cronyism and allegations that reserves who contributed to his campaign did not have to go through training or background checks and that credentials were being misused.

Hutchens, whose decision to take back the badges was unpopular with some volunteers, said Thursday that she can’t say for certain whether some of the reserves are lying so they can keep their credentials, but that she suspects that might be the case because 42 “is a lot” to be missing.

Either way, she said the revelation supports her reasoning that public safety should come first.

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“I think it serves to make my point, really, that we’ve got all these badges that are lost, and we don’t know where they are, and they absolutely look like a badge and can be utilized by anyone who finds them to impersonate a peace officer,” she said.

Among those who have reported their credentials missing or stolen are hotel developers and influential political fundraisers Hadi Makarechian and his son Paul. They operate Makar Properties, a development company whose holdings include the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa in Dana Point. Their company is a major contributor to political causes throughout the state and has paid out more than $300,000 since 2004.

In 2006, Schroeder helped organize a Carona fundraiser at the St. Regis that drew hundreds of guests paying $1,500 a plate to attend. The event was headlined by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Makar beneficiary, and gave Carona a much-needed boost during a heated campaign against candidates who targeted his scandal-ridden administration.

The Makarechians -- between themselves, two other relatives and their businesses -- gave Carona at least $6,500, according to campaign records. Neither of the Makarechians could be reached for comment Thursday.

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Several other Carona allies on the list could not be reached to explain what happened to their badges, including:

* Antonio Cagnolo, who owns Antonello Ristorante near South Coast Plaza in Santa Ana, a hot spot for Orange County power brokers where Carona regularly mingled with associates.

* Jeff Teller, whose family for nearly 40 years has operated the Orange County Marketplace, one of the most profitable events on the Orange County fairgrounds. The Tellers, as individuals and through their companies, have given at least $5,350 to Carona’s campaigns. Carona’s wife, a member of the fair’s Board of Directors, actively supported a no-bid contract for the Tellers when they competed against another concession giant for the rights to keep running the swap meet.

* Harrah, who donated $1,500 to Carona’s 2006 campaign and is known for developing revitalization projects in downtown Santa Ana.

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* Orange City Councilman Denis Bilodeau.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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