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Former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona was a sharp, inspiring leader consumed by greed, a prosecutor said Wednesday as the federal corruption trial began for the lawman nicknamed "America's sheriff."

The three-term sheriff took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts and illegal loans for himself, his mistress and a close group of friends in exchange for political favors, get-out-jail-free cards and the power of his office, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel told jurors.

"This is the case of the two Michael Caronas: Sheriff Michael Carona, the bright, articulate, charismatic man who went from being the underdog candidate," Sagel said. "Then there's the Michael Carona ... who declared, 'We're going to be so rich, we're going to make so much money.'"

The square-jawed Carona, once dubbed "America's sheriff" by CNN's Larry King after vowing to hunt down a child abductor, sat stoically through the prosecutor's opening statement.

Carona, 53, has vigorously denied charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering.

Also charged are his alleged mistress, who has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud; and his wife, who has pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiracy.



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