Highlights of witness testimony in Carona trial
Highlights of the testimony of key witnesses in the federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona:
Joe Cavallo, a prominent criminal defense attorney and longtime friend of Carona, testified that he laundered several campaign contributions into the sheriff’s war chest after Carona told him how to get around the local $1,000 limit.
Cavallo also said Carona introduced him to a deputy’s widow and encouraged her to hire him to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital where her husband, Brad Warner, died after botched knee surgery. Carona bragged about getting him the case, Cavallo said, and after a settlement was reached, Carona got a kickback for the referral.
According to Cavallo, Carona also got a kickback for his help in trying to facilitate a paintball project that never got off the ground.
Gabriel Nassar, an Orange County businessman, testified that he bet Carona and former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo $100 that he could raise $25,000 for Carona’s campaign by selling badges to five wealthy businessmen for $5,000 apiece.
Nassar said that when he came through with the money, Carona and Jaramillo showed up at his office in south Orange County and handed him a $100 bill that said, “We will never doubt you again.” Jurors were shown pictures of the three men in Nassar’s office that day, holding up the bill.
Nassar also got a badge -- which he said came in handy to get into the movies and get out of traffic tickets. It was revoked after the media raised questions about his run-ins with the law.
Fred Lisanti, a retired sheriff’s captain, testified that he was at the hospital when Brad Warner was dying and was present when Carona introduced Warner’s widow to Cavallo.
Lisanti said he was not aware at the time that Carona, Cavallo, Jaramillo and other members of the sheriff’s inner circle had agreed to divvy up profits from legal cases they referred to Cavallo. Lisanti testified that he felt betrayed by Carona once he learned about the referral scheme.
Lisanti was the government’s lone rebuttal witness, leaving the kickback scheme fresh in the jury’s mind.
Lisa Jaramillo, Carona’s former campaign manager and George Jaramillo’s wife, testified that Carona knew Don Haidl was laundering thousands of dollars into the first campaign.
Lisa Jaramillo also said that Carona had an affair with her sister, Erika Hill, and that she overheard the sheriff reassuring Hill about the illegal contributions, telling her, “Sweetheart, if anyone goes to jail, it’s going to be me, not you.”
She also elaborated on Carona’s affair with Debra Hoffman, and how he whisked her away to Las Vegas and lavished her with diamonds and pearls. In one of the trial’s more bizarre moments, jurors were shown birthday cards Carona mailed to Lisa Jaramillo, signing them as from “The Sheriff, Mrs. Sheriff and The Little Sheriff.” The latter was a reference to Carona’s genitals.
Sandy Murphy, a former secretary at sheriff’s headquarters, testified that she had a sexual affair with Carona while he was in a relationship with Hoffman. Murphy, formerly Sandy Trujillo, said Carona encouraged her to “lie and deny” during interviews with two department officials who were following up on an anonymous tip that George Jaramillo was sexually harassing Murphy.
According to Murphy, Carona also reassured her that as long as they both kept their romantic relationship secret, no one would learn of it because “unless there was an 8-by-10 glossy, it didn’t happen.”
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