My Carona

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

As a confirmed Angeleno, I don't usually feel much personal affinity for the culture of Orange County.

I have nothing against the people or the place. Life beyond the Orange Curtain is just a bit foreign to me.

A friend who lives in the mid-city area of Los Angeles -- but who teaches in OC – summed it up pretty well when a student asked how he could possibly live in such a dangerous place as L.A.

My friend's response was to ask how she could live amidst all that safety.

Stereotypes aside, there's one feature of Orange County life that I do kind of envy.

If nothing else, Orange County knows how to put on a juicy scandal.

Not too long ago, the county went bankrupt. The Register newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing a UC Irvine professor who harvested human eggs without his patients' consent.

The latest drama at Irvine has been somewhat amusing. The chancellor gave in to conservative pressure and reneged on a high-profile job offer to liberal legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky. The chancellor denied that he buckled, but eventually had to eat crow and re-hire the professor -- which only made the controversy more fun.

But for pure entertainment value, it's hard to beat the current soap opera involving the sheriff of Orange County, Mike Carona.

Three times he's been elected as the top law enforcement officer of the county. His star once shone so brightly that Larry King crowned him America's Sheriff.

America's prosecutors -- and a federal grand jury -– have another name for him. They say he's been corrupt since day one.

They indicted him and some associates last week on a long list of charges that could put the sheriff in jail more or less forever.

About those associates...

When a federal indictment starts out by naming the sheriff's wife and his -- quote -- "longtime mistress" as co-defendants -- you know the story is going to be pretty good.

Factor in that both women close to Carona are named Debbie -- and that they share a blond resemblance -- and, well, this scandal has media legs even though the defendants insist they aren't guilty.

The indictment alleges that Carona and friends conspired to sell access to his office and accept all kinds of pricey gifts, including a luxury box at the World Series and tickets to a big Las Vegas boxing match.

Helping to build the case against Carona are two sleaze-balls he appointed as assistant sheriffs. They and Carona had been an inseparable -– and insufferable -– team in Orange County law enforcement and politics for a decade.

As prosecutors closed in, both of the cronies turned state's evidence and began to sing. The feds allege that Carona tried to get one of them to shut up – the indictment calls that tampering with a grand jury witness.

The tarnish on Carona's image should be nothing new to anyone who has paid attention.

The scrappy little OC Weekly has been reporting for years on expensive trips, sexual hi-jinks and Carona's association with a major mafia figure. The paper calls the sheriff Calamity Mike.

At least one law enforcement unit stopped sharing intelligence with Carona's department, fearing that his ties to shady characters meant the information could be compromised.

It's all quite a big mess, and one that promises to continue. Carona has taken a 60-day, fully paid leave to fight the charges. Taking his place, temporarily, is yet another crony who rode along on the sheriff's recent junket to Great Britain.

As an observer of the media scene in Southern California, I have to admire all this at some level. Our police scandals in L.A. tend to involve corrupt or abusive cops. Boring. This is good stuff, and if Calamity Mike doesn't plead out I'll be hanging on every revelation when he gets to trial.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.