"America's Sheriff," Mike Carona, poses with America's Feliks Dzerzhinsky -- Tom Ridge, founder of our Cheka, the Department of Homeland Security.
Several decades ago, Latvian filmmaker Albert Jekste produced a documentary entitled “My Latvia” depicting the Soviet conquest and occupation of the Baltic States. The most memorable sequence in that film presented, in deadpan, roll-call style, a roster of Soviet-appointed civic officials and their previous occupations.
Without exception, each had been a career criminal, generally in the same field as his new “legitimate” profession: The new head of the central bank had been an armed robber, the police chief had been the local underworld boss, and so on.
A similar amalgamation of the criminal underworld and political “over-world” is taking place as America descends into an abyss of Soviet-style corruption and tyranny in the name of Homeland Security. But we have to take note of a very important distinction: We're doing it to ourselves.
As occasion warrants, I'll present case studies illustrating what we could call the “My Latvia Syndrome.” I suspect that we'll suffer from a crisis of abundance rather than one of scarcity in this respect.
Today's example focuses on Mike Carona, a self-professed Christian Republican from Orange County – the Mecca of modern conservatism – who has been designated “America's Sheriff” by Larry King. (Here is a gallery of photos, letters, and other keepsakes from King and other celebrities from the "I Love Me" page of Carona's re-election campaign website.)
A balding man in his early 50s with a swimmer's build and the earnest, buck-toothed demeanor of the world's oldest Boy Scout, Carona is a key homeland security adviser to George W. Bush and California Governor Schwarzenegger. He is also a serial adulterer (click here and scroll down to see a photo of Carona during a Russian junket cradling his, ahem, interpreter, who is depicted in another photo wearing the Sheriff's uniform). To this can be added the fact that he's a bosom chum of at least one significant Mafia figure.
The official certificate naming Carona a "senior adviser" on homeland security affairs.
Several years ago Carona filled his campaign war chest was filled with illegal contributions from a felonious businessman as part of a kickback scheme involving a proposed system called High-speed Avoidance Laser Technology (HALT), which could be used by police to disable automobiles by remote control.
HALT is described in the patent (number 6411217) as “a remotely operable vehicle disabling system where a remote command transmitter transmits a command to a receiver capable of terminating vehicle operation and situated within a vehicle to be so disabled.... The system comprises, first of all, a remotely operable transmit unit for transmitting a command shutdown message which may preferably be an infrared beam. Second, the system comprises a command-receiver vehicle unit capable of responding to the command and physically situated at a site of the vehicle such that a shutdown message from the transmit unit can reach the vehicle unit.”
HALT was to be produced by CHG Safety Technologies, whose founder and CEO, Charles H. Gabbard, had applied to become a California police officer in the late 1950s. After being found unsuitable for such service, Gabbard embarked on a career on the other side of the law, building a criminal resume that included armed robbery, attempted robbery, embezzlement, sundry parole violations, and a murder charge.
In 2000, after “going straight,” Gabbard met Sheriff Carona (who was a little more than a year into his first term) by way of a mutual friend: Lobbyist Bob Levy, a retired U.S. Marshal hard-wired into California's vast network of law enforcement unions and pressure groups.
Gabbard enlisted Levy, Carona, and other influential figures in a scheme to give HALT a monopoly by having the legislature mandate its installation in all automobiles state-wide. The felon-turned-police state profiteer handed out tens of thousands of dollars in bribes (in the form of illegal campaign donations) to then-Governor Gray Davis and various state legislators. His most generous gifts were bestowed on Sheriff Carona.
In February 2000, Carona, Levy, and Gabbard worked out an arrangement through which the Sheriff would promote Gabbard's technology in exchange for campaign cash. In fulfillment of his end of the deal, Carona “spent untold thousands of taxpayer dollars to hold a HALT demonstration at El Toro [a former Marine Corps base] on March 16, 2000, and six days later sent a glowing product-endorsement letter to state officials considering a plan, Senate Bill 2004, to mandate Gabbard's products on all California vehicles,” reported the Orange County Weekly (which has produced Pulitzer-caliber exposes of the myriad law enforcement scandals afflicting that community).
Even more shocking was Carona's offer to provide “certain inmates” at the County Jail to help Gabbard manufacture his product.
On May 18 of that year Gabbard came through with the quo for the Sheriff's quid, in the form of $40,000 in donations from CHG executives during a “birthday party” for Carona at Villa Nova restaurant in Newport Beach.
When the dirty deal became public knowledge, Carona reacted by blaming the entire affair on his second-hand man, Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo.
Both Jaramillo and his wife received tens of thousands of dollars in “consulting fees” from Gabbard to promote the HALT technology. On January 30 Jaramillo was given a year in jail and three years of probation as part of a plea agreement. He had faced the prospect of 13 years in prison on bribery, misuse of county property, and lying to a grand jury.
Carona insists that he was deceived by Jaramillo, a one-time close friend whom he was grooming as a successor. ("He is not only like a brother to me, he is my brother," Carona once insisted.) But there is a solid evidentiary trail connecting Carona himself to the kickback scheme, and besides, as Sheriff he should bear much of the blame for a scandal involving his second-in-command.
But Carona – or “Calamity Mike,” as the OC Weekly refers to him – appears to be immune to accountability in any form.
*A few years ago, “America's Sheriff” was photographed (wearing his uniform) in a boozy embrace with Rick Rizzolo, a Las Vegas “adult entertainment” mogul who has been identified by the FBI as a Mob associate.
*In September 2003, Carona issued a memo granting Joseph M. Medawar, a con man-cum-filmmaker, access to Orange County's Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a high-tech crisis headquarters center intended for use in the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. The EOC hosts classified training exercises involving most federal and state law enforcement and emergency response agencies.
The Lebanese-born Medawar, who has close ties to Saudi Arabia, claimed that he was filming a pilot for a television series to be called DHS, which would “celebrate federal agents and President Bush.” (He had paid Orange County Congressman Dana Rohrabacher $23,000 for an old script.) A federal indictment described Medawar's enterprise as a scam that defrauded investors of more than $5.5 million.
Thumbs up for evil! Carona poses with demented GOP presidential aspirant John McCain (left), and with McCain's rival Mitt Romney (right).
It's tempting to perceive Carona as a reality-based version of Chief Wiggum, the spectacularly corrupt and heroically inept Police Chief from The Simpsons. As Greg Hall can testify, Carona is more commissar than clown.
Hall, a 40-year-old businessman, was involved in a fender-bender on July 17, 2005. Upon their arrival the police gave him two Breathalyzer tests, both of which revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.00. Hall was cooperative, telling the officer that he had consumed a single beer and was taking Paxil, a prescription antidepressant. For no particular reason, Hall was arrested on suspicion of DUI and taken to the Orange County Jail.
Following a drug test, Hall was left to stew for what he was told would be no longer than an hour. When a group of Carona's deputies appeared on the scene, Hall politely complained that his handcuffs were too tight.
This mild complaint provoked the knot of deputies – a five-man gang referred to in Carona's department as the “Psycho Crew” -- to treat Hall “like a pinata.”
The handcuffed businessman, who had done nothing wrong and wasn't suspected of a violent offense, was subjected to a three-minute beating. He was dragged down a corridor, had his face repeatedly shoved into cell bars and slammed into the concrete floor, and received countless punches and kicks to his ribs.
Hall was left with “a concussion, broken ribs, a gash in his leg, an eye contusion, broken veins in his feet, a shattered front tooth, lacerations and bruises over his body, contusions to the knee, neck pain, a fractured right wrist and nerve damage to his left hand,” recounts OC Weekly, citing medical records. “The handcuffs were locked so tightly that the steel sliced his hands and caused dangerous swelling. An imprint of a deputy's boot could be seen on the back of his leg for days.”
The intensity of the assault made the terrified businessman lose control of his bowels, causing him to evacuate in his pants; his assailants, taking sadistic glee in their handiwork, derisive calling their victim a “sh*t monkey,” and left him in a cell to bleed. Some of them returned later to tie a black mesh hood over his head – a fitting coda to a performance straight out of Abu Ghraib.
Hall was left bleeding, with his hands cuffed behind his back, sitting in his own feces, for more than twelve hours. Deputies denied him food and water or access to a telephone. Eventually his leg wound was stitched up – without anesthetic – and he was permitted to stagger out of the jail without apology or explanation for the treatment he'd received.
This isn't the first time Carona's goon squad has tortured a jail inmate. In December 1999, four deputies assaulted a 20-year-old inmate in an isolated corner of the facility, torturing him by crushing his testicles. Prosecutors conceded that the torture had occurred, but insisted that they were stymied by a “code of silence” within the Sheriff's Department.
A class-action lawsuit brought against Carona's department was dismissed in April 2005 by now-retired federal judge Gary L. Taylor, who was appointed by the George Bush (the elder). Taylor stipulated to the abuses, and acknowledged that there was “room for improvement” -- and then offered the written equivalent of a shrug by saying that “the county and the sheriff show every indication they will perform that high duty.”
Sheriff Carona, predictably, described Taylor's ruling as a “great victory.”
Just a few weeks later, his deputies, entrusted with the “high duty” to maintain professional standards of inmate safety literally beat the sh*t out of an innocent businessman, just because they could.
For maintaining standards of conduct worthy of a Soviet satrap, Mike Carona, “America's Sheriff” and senior national security adviser to George W. Bush, has earned the distinction of being the first figure profiled in our “My Amerika” series.
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