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Gift to undersheriff is questioned

Times Staff Writer

Federal investigators have made inquiries into the conduct of one of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca’s top assistants as part of their corruption probe of former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, according to court documents.

The key informant in Carona’s case told FBI agents that he gave L.A. County Undersheriff Larry Waldie a used Chevrolet Camaro as a gift for Waldie’s daughter, records show. The disclosure has prompted an internal affairs investigation of Waldie by the Sheriff’s Department.

According to an FBI report, Don Haidl, an ex-assistant sheriff under Carona who owned a vehicle auction business, said he gave Waldie an old but “good-running” Camaro in 1999 that had no value to his business.

Before giving the car to Waldie, Haidl said he “had a cheap set of tires put on the Camaro and had the car detailed” at a cost of about $125, records show.

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In an interview with The Times, Waldie acknowledged accepting the car but said he believed it had little value and that he was not required to report it on state forms in which he must disclose gifts of more than $50.

“It was a junker,” Waldie said. “It wasn’t worth anything.”

Waldie, however, said he sent his wife over with the checkbook to pick up the vehicle, but Haidl refused to accept any money for the “old, old Chevy.” Later, he said, he gave Haidl a bottle of wine worth $150 to $300 as payment.

Haidl told FBI investigators that Waldie did try to pay him, but that he rebuffed his attempts to give him money, the documents show. The FBI report did not reveal the Camaro’s mileage or year, and Waldie said he did not remember those details.

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Waldie, who at the time was an assistant sheriff and an elected Walnut City Council member, said the car did not last long and he has never been questioned by the FBI about it.

Under state law in 1999, Waldie -- as a high-ranking member of the Sheriff’s Department and as an elected councilman -- was required to report any gift of $50 or more, experts say.

Waldie’s forms show that he did not declare the car as a gift, but did report several thousands of dollars in other gifts, including tickets to a concert, hockey games, Laker games and a championship boxing match.

Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies and a key architect of the state’s conflict-of-interest laws, said Waldie should have reported the car as a gift.

“A cheap set of tires and detailing is probably worth more than $50,” he said. “Tires alone are worth more.”

If the car had no value as Waldie contended, why did he give Haidl a bottle of wine, Stern asked.

Michael Gennaco, head of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s watchdog agency, said he has initiated an internal affairs investigation into Waldie’s car deal and into the other gifts he reported receiving.

Gennaco said he also is launching a wider review of the department procedures for checking sheriff’s officials’ statements of economic interest after seeing the prize fight tickets on Waldie’s 1999 declaration valued at $2,000 when the gift limit from a single source was $300 that year.

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Haidl’s statements to federal agents were contained in an exhibit that was filed last week by Carona’s defense team.

Carona is charged with misusing his office in a broad conspiracy to enrich himself and others, including his wife and former mistress. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Haidl, who cooperated with authorities in their investigation of Carona, earned millions of dollars selling cars before becoming the sheriff’s chief confidant. He is awaiting sentencing on federal tax evasion charges.

Calls to Haidl’s attorney were not returned.

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richard.winton@latimes.com


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