Former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl died of unspecified natural causes at Hoag Hospital at the age of 61. Haidl is best remembered for his roles in two of Orange County’s most high-profile trials of the last decade: as the father of Gregory Haidl who was convicted of sexual assault and for wearing a wire to record Sheriff Mike Carona in the corruption probe that sent Carona to federal prison.
Haidl had become Assistant Sheriff in 1999 as part of the “Three Amigos:” Carona, Haidl, and Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo. Independently wealthy, Haidl did not accept a salary as Assistant Sheriff. Haidl admitted to funneling illegal campaign contributions and numerous personal gifts to Carona and to providing money to Carona’s mistress.
The rape trial of Haidl’s son, Gregory, marked the beginning of the end of the “Three Amigos.” In 2002, 17-year-olds Gregory Haidl, Kyle Nachreiner, and Keith Spann video taped their sexual assault of an unconscious 16-year-old girl in Don Haidl’s home. After the first trial in 2004 deadlocked, Don Haidl resigned from the Sheriff’s Department to focus on his son’s defense, convinced that his position as Assistant Sheriff had caused his son to be treated more harshly by the media and criminal justice system. During this time, he engaged in a tax fraud scheme in order to recoup part of the money he used to pay his son’s legal bills.
During this time, Carona urged Jaramillo to obtain leniency for Haidl’s son by intervening with District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Jaramillo initially refused but eventually attempted to intervene in the case. Rackauckas rebuffed Jaramillo and refused to grant Haidl’s son any favors, and the trial proceeded. After a series of other issues involving abuse of a Sheriff’s Department helicopter and controversy over his relationship with a company attempting to gain contracts with law enforcement agencies, Carona fired Jaramillo in 2004, just a few months before Haidl resigned.
In 2007, Haidl wore a wire three times to record, among other things, Carona’s efforts to coordinate their testimony regarding money funneled to Carona. The tapes would prove critical to convicting Carona of witness tampering in 2009, a year after Carona resigned as Sheriff to focus on his own legal defense. Sandra Hutchens was appointed Sheriff by the Board of Supervisors to replace Carona and still holds the post to this day.
Carona remains in federal prison on the 2009 witness tampering conviction. Jaramillo pleaded guilty to mail fraud and filing a false tax return in 2007 and was released in 2011 after serving time in federal prison and a halfway house. Haidl pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2010 but was spared any prison time due to his cooperation in the Carona investigation and trial.