Carona trial: Witness admits wrongdoing

SANTA ANA, Calif. The testimony came under cross-examination during the second day of the trial against Michael Carona, once the three-term head of the nation's fifth-largest sheriff's department. He was dubbed "America's sheriff" by CNN's Larry King for his unflinching pursuit of the killer of a 5-year-old girl.

Mark DiLullo, who piloted a private plane for Carona's millionaire friend Don Haidl, testified Wednesday that he solicited $1,000 campaign donations for Carona at Haidl's request and then reimbursed donors with cash from Haidl to circumvent campaign contribution laws.

He also testified that he flew Carona and his command staff on trips in and out of the state at Haidl's expense.

Carona's defense attorney Jeffrey Rawitz on Thursday challenged DiLullo's recollections and pointed out that he gave FBI agents wrong information during an initial interview last year.

DiLullo said he knew the campaign contributions scheme was against the law but asked his close family and friends to participate anyway.

The government alleges that Carona, his mistress and a close group of friends took cash, gifts, kickbacks and questionable loans valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for political favors, get-out-jail-free cards and the power of his office.

The alleged gifts included expense-paid trips to Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas, ringside tickets to an Oscar de la Hoya fight, box seats to the Los Angeles Angels, tailored suits and Cartier watches.

Carona, 53, has denied charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering.

Also charged are the mistress, attorney Debra Hoffman, and Carona's wife. Hoffman has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud, and his wife has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy.

Deborah Carona will stand trial after her husband and Hoffman.

Much of the government's case centers on recordings made by Haidl, who wore a wire during three meetings with the lawman last year. In the recordings, Carona and Haidl try to synchronize their stories under the threat of federal grand jury subpoenas.

Defense attorney Brian Sun told jurors that Haidl and other government witnesses have already pleaded guilty to felonies and cooperated to earn lighter sentences. He warned jurors not to take the tapes out of context.

Sun also said one of the government's key witnesses, former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, was eventually fired by Carona for misconduct and wanted to retaliate. He also said Carona was duped by Haidl and Jaramillo, who conducted the illegal activities without his knowledge and then turned on him to save themselves.

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