In Santa Ana, former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, after having been in federal prison since 2011 for tampering with a witness, is reportedly asking a judge to sharply decrease his 66-month sentence. If his request is granted, he could be released early 2013.

Attorneys representing Carona insist that the sentence US District Court Judge Andrew Guilford gave their client in in 2009 was inappropriate, and that Carona could be released early because of new laws. According to them, the court misinterpreted United States sentencing guidelines by stating that honest services fraud was an “underlying offense,” and therefore part of the criteria for conviction.

Carona had been OC’s sheriff for nine years, prior to his indictment in fall of 2007 for six counts of felony corruption including conspiracy, tampering with a witness, and theft of honest services by a public official. Though he was found innocent of five counts by a federal jury, he was convicted in January 2009 for witness tampering – during a federal investigation of corruption in the Sheriff’s Department, he tried to convince Don Haidl, a top aide, to lie on his behalf.

In January 2011 an appellate court refused to overturn the conviction, so Carona began serving his five and a half year sentence in a Colorado federal prison. If the current sentence is upheld, Carona will be required by federal law to stay in prison for no less than 85 percent of his sentence, meaning the earliest he would qualify for release would be 2015. Guilford will likely conduct a hearing on Carona’s motion next year, and if the motion is approved, Carona could be resentenced for 24 to 30 months, and possibly released next year.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel, head prosecutor on the case, says that the argument for resentencing carries no weight. The federal prosecution team intends to respond in January to Carona’s motion, which was filed November 6.

Both the federal and state courts convicted former assistant sheriff George Jaramillo – Carona’s confidante – for corruption in 2007, after he plead guilty to postal fraud and tax evasion. As part of his plea agreement, he assisted in the investigation of the Sheriff’s Department, and confessed to withholding honest services as a public officeholder from OC citizens and the state of California.

Guilford gave Jaramillo a federal prison sentence of 27 months in 2009. Two years later, however, after a change in federal law, the court of appeals overturned his conviction on one of the two counts. According to the new law, only bribery and accepting kickbacks are considered honest services fraud, but Jaramillo was convicted for honest services fraud that fell outside of the new criteria.

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