Former assistant sheriff Don Haidl dies at 61

Don Haidl, a Newport Beach multi-millionaire and former assistant sheriff in Orange County who became a central figure in the corruption case against onetime Sheriff Michael Carona, has died.

Haidl died late Tuesday at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, said sheriff spokesman Jim Amormino. Haidl died of natural causes. He was 61.

“Our brother passed away unexpectedly last night," his sister, Peggy Haidl, said in a statement. “He died as he lived, surrounded by people he loved."

A high school dropout who made millions in the car auction trade and lived regally in Newport Beach, Haidl allegedly bought his way into Carona’s graces by giving him and the sheriff’s mistress cash and gifts.

When he was named one of Carona’s assistants – a promotion that required special approval by county supervisors – Haidl became part of a group that called itself the Three Amigos, comprised of the sheriff, Haidl and former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo.

All three were later convicted of crimes, though Haidl never served time.

Haidl was considered the star prosecution witness when Carona was tried on a variety of corruption related charges and wore a wire for investigators as they probed suspected wrongdoing in the sheriff’s department.

During two weeks on the witness stand in Carona's well-publicized trial, Haidl testified that he bribed Carona with cash and luxuries in exchange for access to the Sheriff's Department. 

On recordings of the taped conversations, which were repeatedly played in court, Carona said he would deny receiving money from Haidl, made racist and sexist remarks, and called himself the "most lethal" politician in Orange County.

During a sentencing hearing in January, U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford told Haidl that if he had not cooperated "so fully and thoroughly" he would be serving time in jail.

Friends said Haidl’s relationship with Carona began to sour after Haidl's son was convicted and sentenced to prison for six years in a high-profile sexual assault case, in which an intoxicated 16-year-old girl was attacked on a pool table in Haidl’s Newport Beach mansion.

Gregory Haidl and two friends videotaped the incident, the tape becoming the central evidence in the trial.

Haidl later pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2010 and was given probation, in part because of his cooperation in the Carona prosecution.

The sentencing was one of the final notes in the sweeping case that rocked the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Carona is now serving time in federal prison for witness tampering.

This story was reported by Times Staff Writers Steve Marble and Nicole Santa Cruz.

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