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Convicted California lawman, dubbed 'America's Sheriff,' enters prison

By Michael Martinez and Irving Last, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona reports to a minimum-security prison
  • He will serve a 5 1/2-year sentence for his conviction on witness tampering
  • CNN's Larry King is credited with dubbing him "America's Sheriff"

(CNN) -- Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, once dubbed "America's Sheriff," turned himself in Tuesday to a Colorado federal prison to begin serving his 5 1/2-year sentence for a witness tampering conviction.

Carona, 55, will serve 66 months in a minimum-security facility called "The Camp" at the Englewood federal prison in Littleton, Colorado, said John Sell, a corrections spokesman. The prison is 15 miles southwest of Denver.

Carona will have to serve at least 85% of his sentence, spokesman Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Central District of California told CNN.

Carona was sentenced in April 2009 in federal court in Santa Ana, California. He was convicted of trying to persuade a former assistant to lie to and withhold testimony from a federal grand jury investigating claims of corruption in Carona's campaign and his administration, according to a statement by Mrozek.

Carona was also ordered to pay a fine of $125,000, according to Mrozek.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence of a wide-ranging corruption scheme in which Carona used illegal campaign contributions and personally accepted cash bribes, Mrozek's statement said.

According to the U.S. attorney's office's press release, U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford sentenced Carona and called witness tampering "a very serious offense." The judge added that "lying will not be tolerated in this courtroom, especially by law enforcement, especially by the highest-ranking law enforcement official in the county," according to the prosecutors' statement.

During the trial, prosecutors said they presented evidence of a secretly recorded meeting in August 2007 in which Carona tried to persuade former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl to lie to a grand jury that Carona thought had subpoenaed Haidl, according to Mrozek.

In papers filed with the court before the 2009 sentencing, prosecutors charged that Carona received or solicited cash and other items of value worth at least $432,144, according to Mrozek's statement. The FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation into Carona.

California news outlets have referred to Carona as "America's Sheriff" and have credited former CNN host Larry King with the nickname. In 2002, then-Sheriff Carona appeared on "Larry King Live" because he caught the kidnapper and killer of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, whom Carona dubbed "America's Little Girl." King called Carona and the girl's mother, both guests, "genuine American heroes and heroines," according to a CNN transcript.

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