Attack of the Debbies!

The L.A. Times published a very revealing look at disgraced O.C. Sheriff Mike Carona’s “Debbies” – his wife Deborah and his girlfriend Debra. Here are a few of the spicier excerpts from the article:

Deborah Carona was a member of a moneyed and prominent family that was mentioned as a point of reference in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Debra Hoffman was a struggling but charming attorney, 15 years younger than the sheriff’s wife. Their lives bumped together often.

Both women appeared at official functions together, the wife often sitting in the first row, Hoffman in the second. Photographers working for the Sheriff’s Department sometimes snapped photos of the two women together and sometimes of both posing with the sheriff.

On the morning after he was charged, Carona was ushered into a courtroom ordinarily reserved for drug runners, bank robbers — the sorts of criminals the sheriff had spent years trying to sweep off the streets.

The two Debbies sat nearby. Like the sheriff, they were in handcuffs.

But one former co-worker said Deborah Carona’s work began to slacken after her husband became Orange County sheriff in 1999.

“She basically didn’t work,” said Bruce Moore, a retired probation officer who worked in a cubicle alongside her before she retired in 2004 after 25 years. Her days started late and ended early, he said, adding she was rarely seen with anyone on probation who was assigned to her caseload.

According to the federal corruption indictment that landed the sheriff, his wife and his mistress in court, Deborah Carona accepted a $1,500 St. John Knits suit and a $15,000 gold and diamond Cartier watch from her husband’s supporters, gifts beyond the legal limit which the couple failed to report on financial disclosure forms.

In 2001, the sheriff persuaded then-Gov. Gray Davis to appoint his wife to the board of directors that oversees the Orange County Fair and Exposition Center, a sprawling piece of property in Costa Mesa that is home to the county fair, weekly swap meets and summertime concerts.

While serving on the fair board this year, Deborah Carona voted to allow a paintball company to open a business on the property, according to board records. Federal prosecutors allege in the indictment that officials with the paintball business had paid $25,000 in cash to a Carona associate in 2000 after learning that Carona would use his influence as sheriff to assist the paintball business.

Some said Hoffman looked much like Carona’s wife when she was younger. Despite Hoffman’s concerns about the commotion the campaign caused at the law firm, it wasn’t long before she and Carona became close, according to several people who knew the couple.

After Carona took office in 1999, he and Hoffman were seen together on trips to Las Vegas and Sacramento, according to sources familiar with the trips who asked not be identified because they didn’t want their statements to become a part of the case. She visited his office in the sheriff’s headquarters and changed her hairstyle and started wearing a vanilla-scented perfume that Carona favored, the sources said.

One of Hoffman’s old friends, who asked not to be identified because she didn’t want to be involved in the criminal case, said the couple referred to one another in text messages as “LOML” — “love of my life.” They spoke about a life together.

Like Carona, Hoffman was married. She and her husband, Robert Schroff, have an 11-year-old daughter. In Carona’s second year in office, the department hired her husband, which entitled Hoffman and her daughter to medical benefits. Schroff is still employed by the department, earning $55,000 per year as a painter on the maintenance staff.

According to sources familiar with that trip, the sheriff brought Debra Hoffman with him and stayed at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He attended the fight with Jaramillo while Hoffman and Jaramillo’s wife went to see “O,” the long-running Cirque du Soleil show at the Bellagio.

The sheriff took steps not to be seen with Hoffman in public during the Las Vegas getaway. He didn’t take her to a dinner that weekend at Aqua restaurant, but he left the table with an unopened bottle of wine, according to the sources who asked not to be identified for fear their statements could be used in court. According to a campaign finance statement, Carona used campaign funds to pay a $577 dinner tab at Aqua between September and December 1999.

Hoffman seemed to struggle professionally. She was twice sued for legal malpractice, court records show. In one case the firm agreed to pay $11,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a former client, court records show. The second case was dismissed and it is unclear if a settlement was paid because the case file was destroyed.

As the firm foundered, so did Hoffman’s finances. She and her husband declared bankruptcy in 2001, listing $387,000 in debt and $24,000 in assets.

But the federal indictment suggests Carona helped provide a soft landing.

In the years leading up to the bankruptcy, her law firm accepted a $110,000 loan from Don Haidl, a wealthy businessman who helped bankroll Carona’s campaign and was later appointed assistant sheriff. Haidl also wrote Hoffman seven checks totaling $65,000 in 1999 and 2000, according to the indictment.

In the weeks before the indictment, federal prosecutors gave Carona an option to save his wife and mistress. If he were to plead guilty, they wouldn’t prosecute his wife and would be lenient to Hoffman, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

He chose to fight the charges.

After their first court hearing, Carona and his wife walked hand in hand past a throng of television cameras and news reporters. Both held their heads high, seemingly exuding confidence.

Hoffman trailed behind, a coat over her head, shielding her face from onlookers, and hurried down the street.


About Admin

"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.