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Former O.C. Sheriff's Bid for Early Prison Release Rejected

Michael Carona (Patch file photo)
Michael Carona (Patch file photo)

By City News Service

Former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona's bid for early release from a federal prison in Colorado was rejected by an appeals court today.

Carona, who started serving his 5 1/2-year sentence for witness tampering in January 2011, is due to be released from the federal prison in Littleton, Colo., on Nov. 8, 2015.

"After years of litigation on this matter -- both in the district court and on the appellate level on two separate occasions -- Mike Carona remains a convicted felon and will serve out his 66-month prison term," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel said.

Sagel said the ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appears to end Carona's legal options for early release.

According to the ruling, "The district court did not clearly err in finding that Carona obstructed a criminal investigation into a form of honest services fraud that survived Skilling v. United States."

Carona's attorneys, John Cline and Brian Sun, filed a motion in November of last year arguing that a U.S. Supreme court ruling -- Skilling v. United States -- narrowing the legal definition of kickbacks and bribes means Carona was improperly sentenced by U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford.

In April, Guilford rejected the motion, ruling that Carona's conviction was not affected by the high court's decision.

Guilford ruled that even if Carona's argument was correct, the judge still had the right to put the ex-lawman behind bars for 5 1/2 years because the punishment was based on Carona's "high position of trust as an elected law enforcement official, and his betrayal of that trust."

The appellate judges agreed.

"The investigation was looking into possible bribery," according to the 9th Circuit ruling. "Whether Carona actually committed or was convicted of bribery is immaterial. ... The sentence imposed was not substantively unreasonable."

Carona, who served as sheriff from 1999 to 2008, was convicted in January 2009 of attempting to convince former assistant sheriff Don Haidl to lie during a federal grand jury probe.

Carona was acquitted of other corruption-related federal charges.

Haidl, a wealthy Newport Beach businessman who died last December, avoided prison because he wore a wire while meeting with his boss and became the prosecution's chief witness in Carona's trial.

Carona's other former assistant sheriff, George Jaramillo, had his corruption conviction overturned by a federal appellate panel based on the same U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Skilling case.

Cline argued at an April hearing that Guilford should have based his punishment on "conflict of interest and receipt of unauthorized compensation" instead of bribery. That would have reduced Carona's sentence to somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 years behind bars, according to Cline.

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