County Public Works Chief Fired in Wake of Bustamante Sex Charges

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Orange County Public Works Director Jess Carbajal was fired Monday, just a week after District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged one of his former top executives, Carlos Bustamante, with multiple sex crimes.

Rackauckas charged Bustamante, who is also a Santa Ana city councilman, with committing 12 felonies against at least seven women over an eight-year period, including six counts of false imprisonment, three of assault with intent to commit a sexual offense and one count each of stalking and sexual battery by restraint. The DA also filed misdemeanor charges of battery, assault and sexual battery.

As Bustamante’s direct supervisor, Carbajal came under some of the most intense fire in March after an internal audit report alleged that internal probes into Bustamante’s actions were mishandled.

A county spokesman has confirmed that Carbajal, who headed county Public Works since 2009, was terminated on Monday for cause, adding that he had not been paid any sort of severance. He had been on administrative leave since March when the audit report was delivered to the Board of Supervisors.

Some inside the county administration building said there was talk of bringing Carbajal back until Rackauckas announced the charges against Bustamante last week.

There have been indications that County CEO Tom Mauk could be following Carbajal out the door. Mauk has declined comment since Rackauckas announced the charges last week.

Following Rackauckas’ news conference, county Supervisor Shawn Nelson sent an email to Mauk calling on him to take action regarding Carbajal.

He stands by that direction. “I support the board’s concurrence that it’s the right call,” Nelson said.

The central concern about Carbajal is the perception that he didn’t take any action when reports surfaced against Bustamante.

Yet Carbajal’s attorney, Wylie Aitken (a Voice of OC board member), argues that it wasn’t Carbajal but County CEO Tom Mauk that should have taken action on Bustamante.

“He never should have been placed on leave in the first place. It wasn’t necessary,” Aitken said. “He talked at length with the district attorney. No one ever suggested he had knowledge of Bustamante’s conduct.”

Aitken said the rationale behind the action is clear. “They needed a scapegoat and had to throw somebody under the bus, and it was him.”

Aitken said that when the first complaints about Bustamante surfaced last March, Carbajal brought it to the attention of Mauk and then-Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Campbell.

Carbajal also suggested that instead of his departmental human resources staffer, Orange County Human Resources should investigate the complaints.

When Carbajal’s human resources staff investigated in 2011, no one would substantiate the charges, Aitken said. He added that county Human Resources never followed up.

“What more could have Carbajal had done?” Aitken asked.

While Mauk commissioned the law firm that investigated and whose report that was ultimately referred to the DA, he has come under fire for allowing Bustamante to quietly leave in October.

It was only after Internal Audit Director Peter Hughes finished his own investigation into a separate complaint that the October law firm report was unearthed and referred to the DA.

Complicating matters even further is a lawsuit filed by a former human resources manager at Orange County Waste and Recycling last November that alleges a separate case of sexual affairs and coverups.

In her lawsuit, Kathleen Tahilramani, who worked as the human resources manager, alleges that in July 2010 a female worker and her husband made a sexual harassment allegation against a Prima Landfill supervisor.

Investigating those complaints, Tahilramani alleges, affected her career, because the employee’s husband asserted that county Waste and Recycling Director Mike Giancola “was involved in illegal activities that the husband intended to report.”

While the matter was dropped after a meeting between Giancola and the husband, Tahilramani stated in her lawsuit that the situation left her in a precarious situation because she notified county Human Resources.

Tahilramani stated that both the husband and wife also contacted her, the husband alleging rape and harassment and wife admitting an affair, according to the suit.

“Plaintiff notified Central Human Resources of the allegations, which placed Plaintiff in a precarious situation of being involved with an investigation that involved her immediate supervisor at the time. One important reason Plaintiff reported the sexual harassment claim to Central Human Resources was to gain support and protection from being vulnerable in a situation where she was involved in the investigation of her own immediate supervisor,” according to the lawsuit.

“Mike Giancola covered up the issue and was angry with Plaintiff for reporting this sequence of events,” the lawsuit asserts.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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