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Ex-Calif. sheriff surrenders to begin prison term

Former Orange County sheriff Michael Carona, once dubbed "America's Sheriff," turned himself Tuesday at a federal prison in Colorado to begin serving time on a witness-tampering conviction.

Carona, 55, surrendered at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Littleton, Colo., said Victoria Joseph, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"I believe justice has been done," U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford said during a brief hearing in federal court Tuesday that had been scheduled to discuss Carona's surrender.

The veteran lawman was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 5½ years in prison.

He had been indicted on federal charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering in a sweeping public corruption case that included sordid allegations of marital infidelity, cronyism and money laundering. He was acquitted of all but one charge.

Carona appealed the conviction but lost earlier this year.

Federal prosecutor Brett Sagel welcomed the decision, which he said cast the spotlight back on Carona rather than allegations of government misconduct in the case.

"This has been a long road," Sagel told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday. "At the end of the day, Michael Carona can no longer deflect attention away from his criminal conduct, where it belongs."

Federal prosecutors charged that as early as 1998, Carona solicited help from a multimillionaire to launder at least $30,000 in campaign contributions. Businessman Don Haidl later became assistant sheriff and was given control over a new reserve deputy program that let him hand out law enforcement badges to friends and relatives, the government said.

Haidl eventually became a government informant and wore a wire to three meetings with Carona in 2007.

The witness tampering count stemmed from one of these conversations in which Carona can be heard attempting to persuade Haidl to match stories with him before the grand jury.

Carona appealed the conviction to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that prosecutors broke an ethical rule when they arranged for Haidl to record him even though he had already hired a defense attorney.

Since losing his appeal, Carona's attorneys have filed a petition seeking a rehearing or a hearing of the full panel of judges.

"He's going to continue to pursue his appellate rights," Brian Sun, Carona's attorney, said outside the courtroom Tuesday.

The prison where Carona has been assigned is a low-security facility located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains about 15 miles from Denver. About 700 inmates are housed there.

Carona became Orange County's sheriff in 1999. He made national headlines during a successful investigation into the 2002 kidnapping and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion and was dubbed "America's Sheriff" by CNN's Larry King.

He also became a rising star in state Republican politics, where he was once mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor and even met with then-White House political strategist Karl Rove to discuss his career.

By surrendering in Colorado, Carona avoided being transferred among different federal prison facilities.

On Tuesday, he was accompanied by his wife, Deborah, Sun said.

Associated Press Writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.

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