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Carona's federal corruption trial begins

October 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
During opening statements, federal prosecutors told the jury that former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona clearly used his position to enrich and benefit himself.Carona, 53, was indicted last fall and is facing charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering.

Prosecutors say Carona and others close to him accepted cash, gifts and questionable loans in exchange for political favors. They accuse Carona of engaging in a scheme laundering campaign contributions and more, even before he was elected Sheriff in 1998.

Carona's alleged mistress Deborah Hoffman, a Newport Beach attorney, is being tried at the same time, and his wife Deborah, also charged with corruption, will have a separate trial.

Carona stepped down after his indictment. Carona's former assistant sheriff Don Haidl is said to be a crucial witness to the prosecution. The wealthy businessman allegedly funneled several thousand dollars in cash to help Carona become Sheriff.

Haidl pleaded guilty last year to federal tax charges. He provided prosecutors with secretly taped conversations in which he and Carona allegedly talked about how to cover up the cash and gifts.

Carona's attorney argues Haidl isn't a credible witness, saying the businessman had a vested role in making Carona appear culpable. Carona's attorney also said he may subpoena Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to testify about how he once offered Carona a job as his chief of staff.

It's unclear if Carona will testify in his own defense, and his legal team has declined to comment on the case or the secret recordings.

A judge rejected a defense motion to suppress the tapes but did bar some portions where Carona makes sexually explicit and racially offensive remarks.

Six years ago, Carona looked into national television cameras and told the abductor of a 5-year-old girl not to eat and not to sleep: Deputies were right behind him.

The abductor was quickly caught and the way Carona handled the case propelled him into the national spotlight and prompted CNN's Larry King to nickname him "America's sheriff."

If convicted of all charges, Carona and Hoffman face up to 100 years in prison. Carona's wife faces five years behind bars.

The trial is expected to last two months.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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