A sheriff and one of his top aides deputized 86 of their friends, relatives and political contributors without checking their backgrounds, handing them limited arrest powers and guns in some cases, according to a newspaper investigation.

Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona (search) and former Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl (search) named the volunteers in 1999, the year after Carona was elected, despite concerns raised by a county attorney and the state Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

The background checks were completed only last year, sheriff's officials said.

Carona defended the appointments in an e-mail response to questions from the newspaper.

"Like any organization, the first group of individuals we reach out to for support and assistance is friends and family of the members of the organization," Carona wrote.

Of the 86 appointees, 29 contributed to Carona's campaigns in 1998 and 2002. Others hosted fund-raisers for Carona or his philanthropy, the Mike Carona Foundation (search).

Carona denied that the appointments were political favors.

Some had ties to Haidl, including a brother, sister, nephew and two other relatives, along with private pilots, a personal secretary and other employees of Haidl's auction company, the Times said

The commission removed the names of all the deputies from its database, meaning it no longer recognizes them as peace officers, after finding most had not completed training required by state law.

A Sheriff's Department audit determined that six were performing police duties and they were ordered to stop. Four who received department-issued guns returned them.

Fourteen, however, still have concealed weapons permits and 56 retain their badges and identification cards, the newspaper said.

Carona told the Times that the deputies who retain their badges pose no public risk.

The newspaper studied documents obtained through public records requests and provided by other sources and conducted interviews with appointees and sheriff's officials, some of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity.