The July 2002 arrests on rape charges of 17-year-old Greg Haidl and two friends landed with a sickening thud inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
That thud reverberated this week in, of all places, the corruption trial in federal court of former Sheriff Mike Carona. In 2002, Don Haidl was an assistant sheriff and one of Carona’s most trusted allies. He also was Greg Haidl’s father. Now, he’s Carona’s chief accuser in a trial in which the government alleges, among other things, that he lavished Carona and the sheriff’s top aide, George Jaramillo, with gifts, cash and illegal campaign contributions.
But in those troubled days of July 2002, the government suggests, Don Haidl was looking for payback for all his generosity. A little thank-you, maybe.
If jurors see it the same way, it may go a long way toward answering a question sure to be on their minds -- aside from an unpaid position as assistant sheriff, what did Don Haidl get for his alleged largesse?
Part of the answer, Haidl testified this week, was to enlist some help for his son. And in ways not previously known, his testimony suggested that Carona’s involvement put the former sheriff in the vortex of the controversial rape case.
After his son’s arrest, what Haidl most wanted was for the Orange County district attorney’s office to charge Greg as a juvenile. Jaramillo was tapped by Carona to meet with Tony Rackauckas and press the issue, Haidl testified.
When Assistant U.S. Atty. Brett Sagel asked Haidl what he thought of Carona and Jaramillo’s support, Haidl replied: “That they, at the very least, owed me this.”
However, the effort to persuade Rackauckas fizzled, and Jaramillo only succeeded in angering the D.A., Haidl testified.
But that had not been the only attempt to help, Haidl testified. In the early days of the case, Jaramillo went to San Bernardino, where young Haidl lived with his mother, to counsel and comfort the family. In the process, he upset Newport Beach detectives who wanted to talk to Greg, only to hear Jaramillo suggest that he not.
Haidl also testified that Carona sandwiched meetings with him around a meeting with Rackauckas in the first week after the incident. However, his testimony suggested that not much came of that other than Carona’s offer to let him use his home as a place to strategize and as a refuge from the media that had converged on Haidl’s Newport Beach home.
Haidl also testified that in 2003, as Greg Haidl was awaiting trial, Jaramillo arranged to have a deputy drive Greg home after he and two other friends were detained for skateboarding in a private parking lot and marijuana was found in their car. The incident was not reported on overnight logs available to the media. Haidl testified that Carona signed off on the decision.
Will those actions help convince the jury that Haidl was calling in his markers and that Carona obliged? Or, assuming jurors believe Haidl, might they see the actions as well-intentioned help from friends, even if misguided?
Haidl already has testified the three had been extremely tight friends since 1998. As the three contemplated Greg’s situation, Haidl testified that Jaramillo said to Carona: “If this were your kid, Don would be doing this for you.” He said that Carona acknowledged as much.
Greg Haidl’s case also is much on the mind of Carona’s defense team, which began cross-examining Haidl on Thursday and didn’t waste much time asking about it.
“How did it impact your life?” defense attorney Jeffrey Rawitz asked.
“It was very devastating,” Haidl replied.
Rawitz seemed partly intent on using the case to rattle Haidl. He asked Haidl if he had offered $1 million to anyone who would run against Rackauckas after he refused to charge Greg as a juvenile.
“That’s absolutely false, sir,” Haidl replied with extra emphasis into the microphone, showing his first real emotions on his fifth day on the witness stand. “That never happened.”
Rawitz also asked if Haidl, in essence, had harassed the teenage victim in his son’s case, and Haidl angrily denied that too.
Eschewing a measured opening in his questioning of Haidl, Rawitz instead came out with an edge. “I’d like to start out by talking about your skills as an actor,” he said, referring to Haidl’s three secretly recorded conversations with Carona in July and August 2007.
In questions that alternately seemed to amuse or flummox Haidl, Rawitz proved a much livelier courtroom partner for Haidl than had Sagel. When Rawitz asked Haidl if it had been tough to try and get incriminating information from Carona after he’d said on the tape that he loved him, Haidl replied: “Sir, I don’t believe he loved me.”
Pressing him on his “acting” on the tapes, Rawitz asked: “How are we to know when you’re deceiving someone and when you’re telling the truth? Is there a way to know that?”
Haidl seemed unsure how to answer, but rather than being rattled, he appeared to enjoy the jousting.
He’d better, because Rawitz -- with a courtroom manner equally suited to gruffness or humor -- seems to relish the battle.
Wherever his cross-examination goes, Rawitz inevitably will try to dissect the Carona-Haidl relationship.
And because this case involves former brothers in arms who have turned on each other, jurors also may find themselves doing some psychoanalyzing. I bet as they’re deciding the case they’ll not only have lively deliberations on the law, but on human foibles and motivations.
In a case where subplots abound, how can they avoid it?