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It seems like only yesterday when Sharon Mitchell testified at that rape trial.
NEWPORT BEACH – from www.ocregister.com – Don Haidl, a former assistant sheriff who was convicted of tax crimes and then cooperated with federal investigators in their case against convicted Sheriff Mike Carona, has died.
His family confirmed Haidl’s death in a brief statement. He was 61.
“Our brother passed away unexpectedly last night,” said Peggy Haidl in a written statement released by the family Wednesday.
A self-made multimillionaire from Newport Beach who was handpicked by Carona to head the department’s reserve program, he resigned from his post in 2005 to defend his son, Greg Haidl, in an infamous trial of the rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl.
Haidl’s name would forever be entangled with Carona’s. A staunch supporter of Carona during the eventual sheriff’s rise, Haidl also played a key role in the former sheriff’s downfall.
He died of natural causes ay 11:45 p.m. Tuesday at Hoag Hospital.
“Without Don Haidl, there would not have been a corruption case against Mike Carona,” said Ken Julian, who prosecuted Carona during his time as an assistant U.S. attorney.
Julian described Haidl as down-to-earth, a blue-collar type in spite of his millions.
“I will always remember Don as a being a straight-shooter,” he said. “He was very direct.”
Brett Sagel, the other prosecutor on the Carona case, agreed that Haidl’s cooperation with authorities was the linchpin in Carona’s conviction. He spent hours with Haidl during the investigation into Carona and other members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
“During these meetings, it was quite apparent that caring for his family was paramount to Mr. Haidl,” Sagel wrote in an email.
Haidl was a high-school dropout who transformed an auto-body shop into the largest auction house in California.
He left the department in 2005, and two years later, pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns in 2003. Haidl admitted to filing the false returns to recoup some of his fortune spent on the criminal defense of his son.
That admission came with a deal: Haidl would cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Carona for public corruption.
Haidl eventually wore a hidden microphone as Carona made incriminating statements about the federal investigation.
It was a complete change for the Corona del Mar man. After his 1998 election, Carona had said that Haidl had raised, “a chunk of change … enough to be impressive to me.”
Haidl helped propel Carona to the highest law-enforcement post in Orange County, delivering big-money contributions to Carona’s campaign, including during his first bid for sheriff.
The year after his election, Carona appointed Haidl to the department’s reserve division, a unit in the agency that Haidl would later testify was meant to reward wealthy professionals who donated to Carona.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, Haidl worked as a volunteer in the department, despite his high-level post. From 1999 to 2005, he was not compensated, officials said.
The appointment was immediately controversial. Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters accused Carona and Haidl of agreeing to a quid-pro-quo, where Haidl would raise funds in exchange for a high-level appointment.
The state’s Attorney General Office decided there wasn’t enough evidence of wrongdoing.
But Haidl would find himself in court, this time helping to defend his son, Greg Haidl, in criminal court.
Gregory Haidl and two of his friends were arrested and charged in 2002 with the gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl in his father’s Corona del Mar home. The three were found guilty of sexual assault in 2005.
After his son’s conviction and his resignation from the Sheriff’s Department, Haidl continued to have legal troubles.
In 2007, he pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and agreed to federal investigators in their probe of Carona.
He recorded three conversations with the sheriff, including one that proved vital to Carona’s conviction of witness tampering.
During the recorded conversation, the two men discussed coordinating their testimony to a grand jury about money that was being funneled to Carona.
Haidl told FBI agents he gave reserve deputy badges in return for $1,000 political donations.
In exchange for his help, he was sentenced to two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service for his conviction.
“I apologize to this court, I apologize to the public, I apologize to my family,” Haidl said in court in January 2010. “The things I did were wrong and I accept that. … I take full responsibility.”
A star witness during Carona’s federal trial, Haidl withdrew from the public eye afterward.
“He died as he lived, surrounded by the people he loved,” the family’s statement read. “He will be greatly missed by all who were privileged to know him.”