'America's Sheriff' Facing Corruption Trial in California

Opening statements begin this morning in the federal public corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona, who was once dubbed "America's sheriff."

The 53-year-old Carona is charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering. Also charged are his alleged mistress and his wife.

Deborah Carona will be tried after her husband's expected two-month trial. But his alleged mistress — Newport Beach attorney Debra Hoffman — is on trial with the disgraced ex-sheriff.

A series of conversations secretly recorded by 1 of Carona's former assistant sheriffs and close friends promises to figure prominently in the case.

Prosecutors say Carona and his friends accepted nearly $700,000 in cash, gifts, kickbacks and questionable loans in exchange for political favors beginning a decade ago.

Many of those bribes allegedly came from Don Haidl, a wealthy businessman who was made an assistant sheriff by Carona and placed in charge of a new reserve deputy program that allowed him to hand out badges and concealed weapons permits in a pay-to-play scheme.

Haidl pleaded guilty last year to tax fraud and agreed to become an undercover informant.

Defense lawyers say Carona was a dedicated public servant targeted by overzealous prosecutors with a flawed case.