Crooked Arm of the Law
June 9, 2003
On Aug. 21, 1995, Jesse Trentadue was found hanging from a bed sheet in his prison cell in Oklahoma. Federal prison officials and investigators immediately declared his death a suicide and sought to cremate his remains. His family, however, was suspicious and stopped the cremation for a privately funded autopsy. What they found may be a case of murder followed by an extraordinary cover-up by federal officials.
This month, the Senate is considering calling a hearing into the case — a hearing that should address a growing number of recent scandals involving perjury and obstruction of justice by federal officials.
From the outset, Trentadue's suicide seemed unbelievable to his family. Trentadue, a convicted bank robber, was arrested two days before on a simple parole violation.
The family's autopsy disclosed that Trentadue had bruises and blood on his face and that his throat had been slit. The local coroner strongly questioned the finding of suicide by federal prison officials.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and others called for hearings in 1998. However, the Justice Department launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to scuttle the hearings.
In memorandums detailing meetings with senators released last week, it now appears that federal officials may have misrepresented the evidence in the case to avoid a congressional investigation. For example, officials assured the senators that all of the blood in the cell was Trentadue's when actually they had found blood from a second individual.
Under pressure from Congress, an internal investigation was conducted and concluded that federal officials lied about the evidence. Hatch sent a letter to then-Atty. Gen. Janet Reno stating that "it looks as though somebody in the Bureau of Prisons murdered the man."
A federal district judge was equally scathing in a recent decision awarding $1.1 million to the Trentadue family, finding among other things that FBI officials may have committed perjury in his court.
The Trentadue case is particularly disturbing because it follows a growing number of cases of alleged perjury and obstruction of justice by federal officials. For example, new allegations were raised recently concerning the Timothy McVeigh case. A critical letter was discovered that was never turned over to the defense or the court — the contents of which would have probably halted McVeigh's execution. The letter from an FBI whistle-blower strongly supported the defense contention that evidence offered by the FBI was unreliable.
The letter to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft was sent 11 days before McVeigh's execution but never given to the court, as required by law.
Marked as "urgent," the letter indicated that Stephen Burmeister, now the FBI's chief of scientific analysis, may have given "false, misleading, and potentially fabricated" evidence to the court. Specifically, critical ammonium nitrate crystals reportedly found on a piece of McVeigh's truck may have been from cleaning crews at the FBI lab and not explosives.
Notably, the judge in the case, Richard Matsch, had already delayed the execution after it was disclosed that the Justice Department had failed to hand over thousands of pages of evidence in the case. Moreover, Burmeister had testified that his lab was the very model of professionalism in taking precautions against contamination — an assertion later found to be untrue in the so-called FBI lab scandal.
In all of these matters, the Justice Department has insisted that these were merely mishandling or administrative problems. These cases, however, suggest something far more serious, including criminal acts of perjury and obstruction.
Currently, dozens of federal convictions are being reevaluated after the disclosure of false testimony by federal experts in DNA cases. Likewise, it was recently disclosed that the Justice Department and FBI officials allowed an innocent man to be sentenced to death and remain incarcerated for 30 years for a murder that they knew was ordered by one of their own informants. In the ongoing scandal involving Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, one former FBI agent has already been sent to jail for perjury and obstruction of justice. In the Ruby Ridge and Wen Ho Lee scandals, senior FBI agents admitted to giving false testimony.
Prosecutions for such criminal acts have been limited, and many of these violations came to light largely because they involved high-profile cases. It is widely believed that the occurrence of false testimony and obstructions by federal officials is much higher.
Though the Justice Department does not hesitate to prosecute people like Martha Stewart and others for any allegedly false statement given to federal investigators, they are far more circumspect in dealing with their own ranks. There is a culture of toleration, if not admiration, for agents who "work with prosecutors" to craft testimony to guarantee convictions. What is often dismissed as an excess of enthusiasm within Justice is regularly charged as a crime for citizens.
Congress needs to hold hearings, but only if it is prepared to force
real changes at the Justice Department and the FBI. We need real reform
and individual accountability so that the public can better distinguish
between our law enforcement officials and the subjects of their work.
"PANCAKE JURIES" BOW TO AUTHORITY FIGURES
By Investigative Reporter
September 27, 2003
GRANTS PASS, OR -- "You’re under arrest," a man with a gun and a badge calmly tells you. You protest, "I’m innocent," but the police read you your rights and ignore your protests. You are handcuffed and taken to jail. If the District Attorney in the name of the state thinks it’s a winnable charge, he will give your case to the grand jury expecting an indictment.
The old saying goes, "A DA can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich." Once the DA has the indictment from the grand jury, he has a license to prosecute. If you’re short of cash and don’t have any friends, you will sit in jail waiting for your speedy trial, which could be months. You most likely will be offered a plea bargain at some point. Your chances of escaping unscathed mentally, emotionally, and financially, although you believe yourself innocent, are generally about 2-percent from a jury of your peers in Josephine County. This number varies around the country. At this point the reader may be wondering if the jury system in the United States really works, and if not why not. The fact is it works some of the time, but not enough to coincide with the founding fathers’ vision of the jury system.
Dr. Stanley Milgram’s Experiment
To begin our understanding why the jury system often malfunctions, we must take a journey back in time of just over 40-years. During the years of 1961 and 1962 Doctor Stanley Milgram, a brilliant psychologist with Yale University, created some revealing experiments exposing the dark side of human beings. Dr. Milgram wanted to obtain an insight as to why the Nazi war criminals who committed atrocities against humanity willingly participated in the deaths of millions of people. Often their excuse was, " I was just following orders and doing my job, sir." Were these men and women abjectly evil, following orders, or was there another reason? Dr. Milgram's experiments gave some insightful answers that help show why Hitler and other tyrants thoughtout recorded history have often had popular support of the population. The willingness of ordinary people to commit cruel acts against their fellow man exists today in all nations as it has in the past. Under the right conditions the Dr. Jekylls of today can easily become the cruel and repulsive Mr. Hydes of tomorrow. The following paragraphs explain how Dr. Milgram conducted his experiment.
A newspaper ad was run soliciting those willing to participate in a paid learning experiment. One person was selected to be a teacher and the other the learner. The learner was strapped into a chair to prevent his moving around when an electric shock jolted him. Then an electrode was attached to the learner’s wrist. The learner was given a list of paired words. Then he was required to repeat back the missing word of the pair from memory. The teacher used an impressive electrical device with lots of switches and warning labels. The device delivered shocks starting at 15 volts and continued in 15-volt increments up to 450 volts. Each time the learner missed a word, he received an electric shock. The scientist in the white gown encouraged the teacher to administer shocks at the higher levels for missed words when the teacher was reluctant to do so, and his presence was a stabilizing influence on the teacher. When the scientist wasn’t in the room, the teacher’s compliance with administering the shocks decreased.
At 75, 90, and a 105 volts the learner would groan with pain. At 120 volts the learner complained that the pain of the shocks was unbearable. When the teacher showed any reservation about administering the higher voltages for wrong answers, the scientist would explain that the shocks are not lethal and the learner will suffer no permanent damage from the shocks. As the teacher administers the voltage increases, the cries from the other room grow louder until at 330 volts there is silence. The scientist tells the teacher to interpret the silence as a wrong answer and continue. This goes on until the questions are completed or the machine shows the teacher has administered the maximum 450 volts shock to the learner. The experiment is now completed.
Unknown to the teacher, he was the subject of the experiment, not the learner. The learner received no shock but was coached to act the part of being shocked. The moans and cries of pain were fake. The electrical apparatus was bogus, but the teacher didn’t know that. The teacher believed the shock generator was real, the learner was actually being shocked, and the cries of pain from the other room were real.
Pay No Attention to the Screams, Apply the Voltage
Dr. Stanley Milgram’s experiment reached into the nebulous Twilight Zone of the human psyche. Why would an ordinary person be willing to cause what he believed to be pain and suffering to another human being? The moans, groans, yelling, and silence could leave no doubt in the teacher’s mind that the learner was apparently in great pain. Interestingly, about 65 percent of those who participated in the experiment went all the way by administering what they believed to be a dangerous 450-volt shock. The scientist in the white gown was an integral part of this experiment who encouraged and manipulated the teacher to continue when he expressed reservations about doing so. Some teachers under great emotional stress showed nervous reactions in various ways such as nervous laughing and apprehension. No matter, most of the teachers did continue with the experiment.
Americans Want to Please Authority
Milgram sums up the experiment in this paragraph. "The legal and philosophic aspect of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation." From, "The Perils of Obedience" (Milgram 1974)
Judges, Juries, and a Fair Trial
In our society the jury in our community has tremendous power over an individual. It can recommend the death sentence, find a man guilty of a crime, or find a man not guilty. The jury makes the finding and the judge does the sentencing. What makes a jury tick? Can it be manipulated? Can the jury be stacked to a certain viewpoint? What about juries that sentence innocent men to death before DNA comes along and voids the death sentence? The jurors made the decision to find the man guilty. Did they really want to find the man guilty, or were they under courtroom restraints put in place by a judge?
By using Milgram’s experiment and some questions, perhaps some conclusions can be reached in this matter. If the jurors were to want to please an authority figure whom would it be? The answer appears to be an easy one. It would be the judge, the man in the symbolic black robe who sits on a raised platform to allow him to look down on the jury, prosecutor, defendant, and spectators. This is a power and authority position and the purpose is to intimidate. How much influence do you think the judge would have if he sat down in a pit, with the jury and defendant above him and looking down on him?
The judge is the scientist authority figure in Milgram’s experiment. The judge is like the shepherd that nurtures the flock of sheep. The sheep want to please and look to the shepherd for guidance. The jurors come and go at the judge’s bidding. The judge tells the juries when they can have a break, have lunch, and can even sequester a jury for as long as it takes to come up with a verdict. When the judge wants to discuss an issue with the prosecutor or defense attorney, he will often dismiss the jurors. They get up and file out of the courtroom like so many sheep.
Most important, the judge is able to gain control of juries’ personal opinions with the following two statements: "Will you bring in a guilty verdict even though you disagree with the law?" The law in question may be a bad one. But, it is still being enforced. A juror who admits to disagreeing with the law will no longer sit on the jury. The jurors are also under oath to bring in a guilty verdict if the prosecutor proves his case beyond a reasonable doubt, even if they are dealing with a bad law.
The juror can no longer vote his conscience, and the jury system fails to meet the founding fathers’ expectations. We now have the so-called "12 pancake (stacked) jury" who are psychologically under the spell of an authority figure (judge) whom the jurors subconsciously wish to please.
What’s a Guy to Do
So what can the man who considers himself an innocent victim do to protect himself? If he has access to money, there is a lot he can do. The old idiom 'money buys justice' is fact. If the defendant doesn’t have money to hire a good attorney, investigator, and expert witnesses as needed, he should consider the plea bargain usually offered. If he goes before a typical teacher pancake jury in Josephine County, Oregon, and the rest of the nation, the pancakes most likely will figuratively hang the learner defendant. That is generally the destiny of those charged. In April 2003, the prisons in the United States held over 2.1 million prisoners, which surpasses the number in Russian prisons. American juries have helped make the USA the number one prison country. A dubious title to hold.
Why Did One Go to Prison and the Other Go Home?
Josephine County, Oregon's District Attorney Clay Johnson, in a cruel prosecution attempted to squeeze out six years of Steve Andrews life. Andrews, a man in his sixties, (story) was accused of child abuse in Josephine County, went before a jury of 12, and won. How did he do it? T.J. Burris, a man in his sixties, (story) spent over $100,000 trying to stay out of prison for alleged child abuse in Josephine County. Many claim Burris never got a fair trial when Judge J. Loyd O’Neal presided over the case. Even local attorneys and this writer agree on the issue. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, the second pancake jury found him guilty, and he’s been in prison for 5 of an 8-year sentence. The same type of charge was used on Andrews, but Andrews got to go home. Andrews went and hired a good investigative reporter.
The investigator’s testimony, along with that of an excellent expert witness who was a child psychologist were crucial in stealing the jury away from the prosecution. An exceedingly talented attorney from Portland rounded out the winning team. Now, Andrews had three-authority figures representing him who were able to overshadow the prosecutor and the state’s expert witness. The trial reduced Steve Andrews to poverty and debt, but gave him his freedom. By not sending an innocent man to prison, the taxpayers were saved at least $180,000.
There are a lot of jurors who become teachers (Milgram’s experiment)
who sit on juries willing to please authority figures, few have any compulsions
against inflicting pain and suffering on the defendant (learner). If you
don’t have a good investigator, attorney, and an expert witness you could
easily be part of the 98 percent (or whatever the conviction rate is for
your city/county) that are convicted and sent away for a long stay.
© 2003 John Taft - All Rights Reserved
D.A. Gets Tough on Corrupt Lawyers
November 10, 2003
As Chin Shan was dying of misdiagnosed stomach cancer, she sought justice from Leonard Samuels, attorney-at-law. The Los Angeles lawyer had won Shan a $190,000 settlement against the doctor who failed to diagnose her illness.
Then Samuels stole her money.
Shan died before her former attorney's trial, but she testified tearfully in a videotaped deposition. A jury took just one hour to convict the 56-year-old lawyer, who traded a Rancho Palos Verdes home for a cell at North Kern State Prison.
"She felt humiliated," said Shan's daughter, Phoebe Ma. "She trusted him, and he turned around and stabbed her. Stealing from a woman who is dying of cancer is ridiculous."
Samuels is one of 16 attorneys convicted of embezzlement, forgery and other fraud-related crimes in the last three years who were pursued by a squad of Los Angeles County prosecutors charged with cleansing the legal system of lawbreaking lawyers. Eight additional cases are pending, and two dozen more attorneys are under investigation.
In a profession whose negative image often fuels more punch lines than prosecutions, the idea of attorneys being led away in handcuffs from high-rise offices draws cheers. The team has a 100% conviction rate. It is the only one of its kind in the state, according to the State Bar of California.
The crackdown reverses years of limited attention to what has long been considered a serious problem by the state bar, which can recommend disbarment for corrupt lawyers but doesn't have the authority to prosecute. The new approach has drawn statewide notice and support from victims' groups, legal organizations and judges.
"A bad lawyer who steals not only hurts his own clients, it hurts the whole profession," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley, who supervises the county's criminal courts.
Los Angeles County has 52,000 attorneys, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding, but lawyers say their reputations suffer from corrupt attorneys' heinous crimes.
One Malibu attorney was convicted of forging signatures on checks to maintain his beachfront lifestyle, leaving his clients without enough money to pay their medical bills. Another lawyer was charged with pocketing $25,000 belonging to a teenager whose parents died in a car crash. A San Gabriel attorney faces extortion charges for allegedly threatening to expose a man falsely accused by a dinner guest of poisoning her food.
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley formed the unit, part of the Justice System Integrity Division, shortly after his 2000 election. The three prosecutors receive support from dozens of investigators, some former FBI agents and narcotics officers.
A corrupt lawyer betrays his position of trust in the legal system, Cooley said.
"Attorneys, the vast majority who are ethical, honest and upstanding, want to see thieves disbarred and prosecuted," he said. "I think the attorneys don't want to have their professional reputation tarnished by a few criminal miscreants."
The unit has drawn some criticism. Some victims have complained that the sentences are too light; convicted attorneys can avoid prison sentences if they pay full restitution. Others contend that prosecutors should focus on lawyers from large, big-moneyed law firms rather than solo practitioners. But overall, the unit has been well-received.
"It seems everybody knows a dirty attorney," said Deputy Dist. Atty. William Penzin.
The crimes committed run the gamut, but embezzlement appears to be most common, Penzin said.
Corrupt attorneys steal from the elderly, disabled and terminally ill. Many of the convicted attorneys handled estates or personal injury claims. With access to trust accounts, they looted the funds and spun elaborate ruses to keep clients in the dark, prosecutors said.
They spent the money on speculative investments, private school educations for their children, gambling debts and lavish lifestyles. More than a few struggled with debts from shrinking practices, so they robbed one client to pay another.
"Nobody has written any checks to Mother Teresa," said Ed Miller, one of the unit's prosecutors.
Agua Dulce attorney Bruce Nahin used his client's money to bankroll his horse ranch.
From 1998 to 2000, Nahin, 50, swindled nearly $2 million from nine clients, including two elderly women who lost their life savings. By the time Nahin finished writing himself checks, the trust account, which once held $573,000, tallied just $8.49.
Wanting to use Nahin's assets to pay restitution to victims, authorities considered seizing about one dozen of Nahin's horses. But they were too late. The Peruvian Paso Fino horses, some of which cost $50,000, were undernourished and deemed worthless. Nahin, who pleaded no contest to the charges, is in county jail awaiting sentencing and could receive a 10-year prison term.
Nahin's case, like many, was referred to investigators by his former clients.
In the cases that have reached trial, juries have not been sympathetic to defense arguments after hearing from victims such as Ramon Villanueva.
Villanueva was one of four disabled accident victims who testified that their former attorney, James Herman Davis, stole millions of dollars after settling their accident claims. Davis, who had an office in a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper, was known as the F. Lee Bailey of the civil law arena.
During his trial in 2001, one victim after another wheeled up to the witness stand. Many said they couldn't afford medical care or rehabilitation because Davis stole their money. Some of his victims couldn't speak English. Villanueva, 53, who was paralyzed after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle, said Davis pilfered most of his $500,000 settlement by forging his signature.
"He was a fraud," Villanueva said in a telephone interview. "I needed the money to provide food for my family. I didn't have anything."
Davis never admitted that he took the money. His defense was that the payments had been delayed because of accounting and other problems with the trust accounts.
But prosecutors said Davis, a 73-year-old former Los Feliz resident, spent much of the money on oil investments. A jury convicted him of grand theft, and he is serving a 12-year sentence at the Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.
Before Los Angeles prosecutors began working closely with the state bar investigators, problem attorneys often slipped through the cracks of law enforcement. Many cases didn't meet criminal prosecution threshold levels — prosecutors used to file embezzlement cases only if the figure was greater than $25,000. And the complaints were often misperceived as disputes over lawyers' fees.
Nationwide, attorney discipline issues are usually handled by the courts or state bar associations, which refer criminal cases to prosecutors. Specialized units dealing solely with attorneys are rare, according to the National Organization of Bar Counsel, a group for members of attorney disciplinary agencies.
Investigators said they were frustrated by the way it was done before. "We would send cases [to prosecutors], but they wouldn't go anywhere," said John Noonen, a state bar investigator. Now, he said, crooked attorneys are more likely to end up behind bars.
Faced with their own financial records as evidence — the paper trail is often the most damning and insurmountable evidence — most accused lawyers plead guilty before trial. The lawyers often can't explain the discrepancies, saying only that they intended to repay their clients.
Many victims also no longer feel shortchanged by a system that simply let a crooked attorney lose his license. Under the old system, even when attorneys stole entire life savings, victims rarely received more than the $50,000 provided by the state bar's client security fund.
In Shan's case, compensation from the security fund helped pay for her funeral.
The 62-year-old Taiwanese immigrant was forced to keep working as an insurance clerk through her illness to pay for chemotherapy. As she was dying, prosecutors videotaped a deposition in which she detailed how Samuels stopped returning her calls shortly after he settled her malpractice case for $190,000.
The guilty verdict came five months after Shan's death. A Superior Court judge sentenced Samuels to two years and four months in state prison.
At the sentencing hearing, Samuels admitted he took the money and accepted responsibility for failing his client.
"It hurts more than I can express to the court," he said. But, he said, "there were unusual circumstances in this case" because Shan's daughter owed him fees for representing her in unrelated cases.
Prosecutor Miller urged the judge to put Samuels behind bars as a message to all attorneys.
"We're not some old boys' club who looks out for each other," he said.
Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 7:16:33 AM PST
Jailing corrupt lawyers
There are some crimes that seldom end up in court simply because they are below prosecutors' awareness level, such as small-town corruption and crooked lawyers. But, in L.A. County at least, that's changing.
Small cities were an early target of L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, resulting in indictments during the past couple of years in such places as South Gate, Bell Gardens, Compton and Carson. Now crooked lawyers also are ending up behind bars.
In the past, State Bar Association officials have complained that when they passed the results of their investigations of misconduct to prosecutors, nothing happened. It may not have been so much a question of favoritism among lawyers as it was misperception: Many of the complaints looked to prosecutors more like civil disputes than crimes.
But they aren't. As the L.A. Times reported last week, a group of special prosecutors in the D.A.'s office so far has won fraud convictions against 16 attorneys. Eight more cases are pending, and more than a score are under investigation.
Most of the cases involve some sort of embezzlement, and some of the details are disgusting. One lawyer helped himself to $25,000 from a teenager whose parents had been killed in a car crash. Another kept a $190,000 settlement in a malpractice suit and was convicted five months after his client had died of cancer. Still another cheated nine clients out of $2 million, including the life savings of two elderly women.
In the past, the most lawyers had to fear was that if the State Bar caught them, they would be disbarred. The most defrauded victims could hope for was a maximum of $50,000 from the bar's restitution fund. Now, finally, there is some real justice.
Few ought to be more pleased to see crooked lawyers going to prison than lawyers themselves. All but a relatively few honor high standards of behavior, as well they should, and they don't want to see their reputations damaged by a handful of thieves.
L.A. County's D.A. is smart to zero in on underscrutinized municipal
corruption and embezzling lawyers. But these problems are not limited to
one county. Other district attorneys ought to start doing the same
November 14 - 20, 2003
Web Exclusive: Reefer Madness
DA investigates charges sheriff’s deputies covered up pot bust involving an official’s son already on trial for videotaped gang-rape
by R. Scott Moxley
Behind closed doors last week, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and the grand jury launched a politically explosive investigation into whether a top Sheriff’s Department official attempted to cover up a sensational if petty drug case.
The investigation centers on Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo and allegations he ordered deputies to conceal Gregory Scott Haidl’s role in an Oct. 26 marijuana possession bust in San Clemente, according to law enforcement sources.
Nobody would care about the incident except for six salient facts:
--Haidl is the son of Jaramillo’s colleague, Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl;
--The 18-year-old Haidl is out of jail on $100,000 bail facing felony charges stemming from an alleged, 2002 videotaped gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl in Corona del Mar.
--Jaramillo already faces criticism for persuading the Haidl family not to cooperate with police investigating the rape charges.
--A would-be sheriff’s candidate in 1997 before he joined Mike Carona’s successful campaign for sheriff, Jaramillo hopes to someday succeed Carona. Haidl’s support in that effort would be key: in addition to overseeing the Sheriff’s Department’s reserve units, Haidl is a wealthy businessman who pours campaign cash into local law enforcement races.
--Haidl doesn’t want his son to be convicted in the rape case; believes he should receive no more than probation for his participation; and does not want his son to spend one minute in jail. Haidl’s allies say the assistant sheriff believes the case against his son is motivated by the DA’s thirst for headlines.
--If the Sheriff’s Department had indeed arrested young Haidl for pot possession, he would have been in violation of his bail and a judge could have sent him immediately to jail.
"Heads will roll if the grand jury gets to the truth about what happened with Greg Haidl," predicted one influential Sheriff’s Department source familiar with the details of the probe. "It’s all about obstruction of justice. That’s a felony and this is serious."
The seriousness of the investigation was proven on Nov. 6 when the grand jury called its first witness: Jaramillo. Carona’s longtime confidant took the 5th Amendment, refusing to answer questions on the grounds that his remarks under oath might be incriminating. Next, on Nov. 12, the citizen panel guided by Rackauckas asked Carona to provide department audio, video and paper records of the San Clemente incident in which Haidl was eventually chauffeured to his mother’s home by a deputy and released without being charged. Sources insist Carona was not involved in any wrongdoing and is cooperating with the grand jury.
Neither Carona nor Jaramillo responded to requests for comment. But for two weeks, Sheriff’s Department officials close to Jaramillo and private sources allied with Haidl worked hard to keep the story out of the press. That changed when offended law enforcement officers began talking to reporters and a DA investigator opened a probe.
By Nov. 11, Lt. Sheriff Jim Amormino, senior spokesman at the Sheriff’s Department, was acknowledging the affair to reporters but downplaying it as "minor." "There was no favoritism shown here by anyone in the sheriff’s department," he said flatly. A Haidl representative described it as a "stupid story" that "proves the DA’s office is trying to create bad press for Don Haidl and his son. They have a vested interest in making the Haidls look bad."
Despite the rhetorical fireworks, everyone seems to agree on this much: On the evening of Oct. 26 near a San Clemente industrial office parking lot, Haidl and another 18-year-old (himself out on bail for an unrelated drug charge) were in a late-model black SUV driven by a 16-year-old South County boy. They had set up night lights to skateboard in the parking lot. Attracted by the lights, Sheriff’s Deputy J. Roche approached and found a bag containing a small amount of marijuana in the SUV. Most of the agreement ends here.
Amormino told the Weekly that Roche confronted the three teenagers about who owned the pot and that the 16-year-old minor--not Haidl--quickly accepted responsibility. The minor was given a $270 citation and ordered to enter a drug diversion program, according to Amormino.
"Yes, Greg Haidl was given a ride to his mother’s house which was five miles away as a courtesy, but was that special? No," he said. "That’s the whole story."
Other law enforcement sources say there’s much more than that. They say the pot was found not in the front seat with the minor but on the backseat floorboard underneath Haidl’s keys. Recorded radio transmissions between officers at the scene reportedly show that the narcotics were repeatedly called "Haidl’s pot."
These sources also suggest that no citations were given at the scene because of high-level interference. They say Deputy Roche called Richard Downing, his on-duty sergeant, who then called Bill Hunt, a sheriff’s lieutenant who doubles as the San Clemente police chief. Hunt, they say, called Don Haidl and Jaramillo for advice.
Sources claim that it wasn’t until four days later when KCBS-TV reporter Dave Lopez began asking Amormino questions about the drug incident that a report was filed, pot was logged into the department’s evidence locker, and the minor--who’d just been assured he would receive no jail time--agreed the drugs were his.
Asked why other law enforcement officers would have contradictory information about the same incident, Amormino said, "I don’t know. I’m just relaying the facts as they’ve been relayed to me. To the best of my knowledge, all standard operating procedures were followed."
Amormino promised a follow-up interview to answer more detailed questions. Two days later, at press time, he had not returned several requests for comment. Deputy Jon Fleischman, Amormino’s assistant, also did not return a detailed telephone message.
"If typical [standard operating procedure] had been followed, Haidl would have been taken into custody," said a Sheriff’s Department official who spoke with the Weekly because "it makes me sick they think they can get away with this."
As a top deputy with powerful Homeland Security intelligence responsibilities and longtime key political advisor to the second-term Carona, Jaramillo enjoyed favorable crime-fighting publicity until news accounts revealed his role in the Haidl rape case. Then, in April 2003, The Orange County Register’s Aldrin Brown reported that Jaramillo and Carona had been using a Sheriff’s Department helicopter as a personal "flying limousine" at taxpayer expense. Other sources have said that Jaramillo inappropriately used his sheriff’s credentials to hold up a commercial airline flight for which he was late. This latest affair has some local cops wondering if Jaramillo’s next trip will be the one he makes to clean out his desk.
Three Strikes Legal - Index