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Closing arguments continue in Carona trial

January 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
After two months of testimony, closing arguments were under way Tuesday in the federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona.Carona stands accused of selling out his office in exchange for campaign contributions, bribes and gifts.

The courtroom was packed Tuesday, and there was a separate courtroom set aside for all of the spectators to fit in.

Earlier Tuesday, the judge read nearly 60 pages of jury instructions, things he wants jurors to keep in mind before they decide Mike Carona's fate.

Mike Carona smiled as he walked into court, about to face jurors who will soon decide his fate. During closing arguments the prosecutor accused Orange County's former top cop of using his office to hand out favors in return for cash and gifts.

For nearly two months jurors heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including the government's star witness, Don Haidl, a wealthy Orange County businessman and former close friend of Carona.

Haidl cooperated with prosecutors as part as a plea deal on tax charges. Haidl testified he gave Carona more than $30,000 in cash and gifts, including a boat and tailored suits, and in 1998 he laundered campaign contributions.

In exchange prosecutors allege Carona gave Haidl the power of the sheriff's department by appointing him the assistant sheriff.

Haidl said Carona made sure his son Greg Haidl got preferential treatment in a drug case and tried but failed to get Greg tried as a juvenile in a sexual assault trial.

Prosecutors allege Carona was involved in more than $400,000 in payments from Haidl to Carona, his alleged former mistress Debra Hoffman, and George Jaramillo, a former assistant sheriff who also pleaded guilty to other charges and who cooperated with the government.

Prosecutors showed financial disclosure forms to prove Carona allegedly did not report any of the payments.

Prosecutors also relied on audio tape of Carona, secretly recorded by Haidl, in three conversations that prosecutors allege catch Carona trying to get their story straight before testifying before the grand jury.

The defense tried to attack Haidl's credibility, saying he testified against Carona believing it would lead to a lighter sentence in his own tax-related case. The defense tried to show Haidl received nothing from Carona and the gifts and money were merely gestures between friends.

Carona's wife Deborah is also facing a conspiracy charge. She will be tried on a later date. Carona's alleged former mistress will be tried next month.

Carona's closing arguments are expected to continue Wednesday, then the case will go to the jury.


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