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Prosecutors drop allegation against Carona’s wife over $15,000 watch

Times Staff Writer

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday dropped one of the mail fraud charges in the corruption case against former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, his wife and former mistress.

The U.S. attorney’s office obtained a superseding indictment no longer alleging that Carona’s wife, Deborah, failed to disclose the gift of a $15,000 Cartier watch on a conflict-of-interest form she filed as a member of the board overseeing the Orange County Fairgrounds.

Carona, his wife and alleged mistress, Debra V. Hoffman, are still accused of conspiring to sell the power of Carona’s office for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.

Prosecutors made the decision to exclude the allegation regarding the watch disclosure after defense attorneys informed them that it was not required because the gift came from someone who didn’t do business with the fair board.

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Last week, they said they intended to file a motion to have the charge dismissed, but prosecutors decided to drop it voluntarily instead.

Deborah Carona’s attorney, David W. Wiechert, said he believed the new indictment was evidence that prosecutors misled an earlier grand jury about the legality of her fair board financial reports.

“Who misled the grand jurors about Debbie Carona’s conduct, how they were misled and why will all be questions that should be answered down the line,” Wiechert said.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said in a statement that the new indictment “essentially cleans up some minor issues we saw in the document since the former sheriff, his wife and Debra Hoffman were initially charged.”

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In addition to conspiracy, Michael Carona is charged with three counts of mail fraud and two counts of witness tampering for allegedly telling a former top assistant to withhold evidence from a federal grand jury.

Hoffman is charged with conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud and three counts of bankruptcy fraud. The former sheriff’s wife is charged with one count of conspiracy.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com


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