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Former Calif. sheriff sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Michael Carona, former sheriff of Orange County, Calif.,  has been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for tampering with a witness in his public corruption case.
Sheriff Sentencing
Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona leaves the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in Santa Ana, Calif., after a court appearance on Feb. 28.Reed Saxon / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former Southern California sheriff has been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for tampering with a witness in his public corruption case.

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford sentenced Michael Carona on Monday near the 6 1/2-year term that probation officials had recommended. During the hearing, Carona thanked the judge for the opportunity to fight the charges against him.

The disgraced ex-lawman also was fined $125,000 and must serve two years of probation after his release.

Carona was indicted on sweeping public corruption charges in 2007 in Orange County and stepped down from the nation's fifth-largest sheriff's department. In January, the jury rejected the heart of the case and convicted Carona of a single count of witness tampering.

Carona's attorney were expected to appeal.

In a letter to the court unsealed Friday, Carona sought leniency from Guilford. Carona's letter was one of 71 letters submitted on his behalf.

Carona did not discuss his conviction except to say he regrets having the conversation that led to the charge and was "completely humbled" by the trial.

The sentence marked the end of a legal saga that has captivated the public with its soap opera-like plot since the sheriff was first charged in October 2007.

Indicted with Carona were his wife and his longtime mistress. The government has since dropped charges against both women.

Jurors rejected the heart of the government's case in January, after a 10-week trial that featured a parade of five dozen witnesses, including a former assistant sheriff who testified for the prosecution in exchange for a plea deal.

Secret recordings
Prosecutors had alleged conspiracy and multiple counts of mail fraud and witness tampering in a case that included allegations of pay-to-play schemes and money laundering.

Government attorneys also tried to show another side of the publicly charming sheriff by playing secretly recorded conversations in which Carona frequently used sexual and racial slurs and spoke lightly about his longtime affair.

The government charged that as early as 1998, the three-term lawman solicited the help of multimillionaire businessman Don Haidl to launder at least $30,000 in campaign contributions.

Once elected, Carona rewarded Haidl with the post of assistant sheriff and control over a new reserve deputy program that allowed him to hand out law enforcement badges to his friends, relatives and associates, the government said.

The prosecution contended that Haidl's gifts to Carona exceeded $430,000 over several years.

Haidl eventually became a government informant, along with another former assistant sheriff and Carona's one-time campaign manager. Both men were named as unindicted co-conspirators in the grand jury indictment against Carona and reached plea deals with federal prosecutors early on.

Haidl wore a wire to three meetings with Carona in summer 2007, producing hours of profanity-laced audio tapes that were repeatedly played for the jury. Haidl also spent 10 days on the witness stand, although Jaramillo did not testify.