Former Orange County executive Carlos Bustamante’s final secretary at the Public Works department testified Monday that, among numerous inappropriate behaviors, her boss at one point physically kept her in his county office to hug and kiss her against her will.
The secretary, who was identified simply as Jane Doe A in Superior Court proceedings, said even though she told Bustamante she didn’t want him to hug her and twisted in an effort to escape his kisses, he still wrapped his arms around her.
“It was like a bear hug. His arms were around me really tight,” she said in a voice that often was barely audible. Through more than two hours of testimony, she clearly avoided looking directly at Bustamante. Meanwhile, Bustamante directly faced his accuser from his chair at the defense table.
Despite struggling and fighting to block his advance, the former secretary said, Bustamante didn’t let go until he managed to kiss her on the neck.
It felt like “I wasn’t going to be able to get out,” she said, adding she was afraid to report his conduct, in part because she was in a new position on a six-month probationary period and in part because of Bustamante’s influence with top officials.
The testimony Monday was part of the opening day of the preliminary hearing in the criminal case against Bustmante, who stands accused of committing more than a dozen sex crimes against female county employees.
He is charged with 12 felonies and four misdemeanors, which include false imprisonment, attempted sexual battery and stalking.
One theme throughout the testimony was that Bustamante’s political associations made him an unaccountable politician within the county bureaucracy. He was an up-and-coming figure in the Republican party and a member of the Santa Ana city council at the time he is accused of sexually assaulting women who worked for him.
The former secretary testified she was terrified to report the hugging incident and others to human resources executives because Bustamante had strong connections to county CEO Tom Mauk, county Human Resources Director Carl Crown and other high-ranking county officials. Within her own Public Works department, Bustamante was in charge of human resources workers, among others.
Her boss’s relationship with powerful top-level county officials made her “afraid to talk” and report the incidents, she said.
She said her sense was that Bustamante “had a lot of power because [of] who he knew.”
Her testimony continues Tuesday. Bustamante’s defense attorney, James Riddet, hasn’t yet had a chance to cross-examine the former secretary.
Hearing Will Determine if Bustamante Stands Trial
The preliminary hearing before Judge Kazuharu Makino is expected to last five to nine days and include testimony from all of the women Bustamante is accused of sexually assaulting. Makino will determine if there’s enough evidence for Bustamante to stand trial.
District Attorney investigator Thomas Conklin began the day with testimony that Bustamante’s immediate boss told him he “had no control” over his underling.
Former public works director Jess Carbajal “said it was tough to supervise an elected [official] who had an ‘in’ with the county CEO,” Conklin testified.
In addition to Carbajal’s complaints about Bustamante’s close relationship with Mauk, Conklin said another county employee told him Mauk and former county Supervisor Bill Campbell wanted Bustamante to participate in a Harvard University executive training program.
One of the felony charges against Bustamante is felony grand theft of public funds in connection with his attendance at Harvard University's Senior Executives in State and Local Government program.
He is accused of fraudulently receiving tuition worth more than $3,100 in county funds.
Bustamante initially agreed to pay 25 percent of the $11,200 tuition for the program himself and then later signed a letter stating that he agreed to personally pay $3,500 of the tuition, according to prosecutors.
But despite the agreement, he allegedly submitted and received a county tuition reimbursement of $3,000 for his share of the tuition.
He also is accused of charging the county for meals during the program, even though meals were provided. County policy is not to cover food if it is provided.
Riddet’s questioning of the investigator emphasized management’s apparent approval of the funds.
Conklin, meanwhile, said Carbajal told him he was unaware of Bustamante’s tuition agreement with the county.
County leaders allowed Bustamante to quietly resign with a confidentiality agreement and a severance in October 2011.
Advances Began Early, Former Secretary Testifies
Bustamante’s former secretary said his unwanted advances started soon after she started working for him in April 2010.
Bustamante would say her buttocks “looked nice,” ask about her bra size, ask what her favorite sex position was and suggest the two of them have sex.
“I would tell him ‘no’,” she testified, adding that his comments made her uncomfortable.
Despite making her opposition clear, she said, Bustamante kept making inappropriate comments “almost daily.”
At one point, she said, Bustamante told her he dreamed of the two of them on a balcony while she wore a black dress.
“I told him to stop it, I didn’t want to hear it anymore,” the woman testified.
Yet Bustamante later told her more details about the dream, she said, including that they were kissing and “getting wet.”
She said reporting the comments would have been inherently problematic.
“I couldn’t go to human resources” because “he was in charge of human resources” at public works, the former secretary testified.
Bustamante’s behavior continue to escalate, she said.
While driving together to a work-related United Way breakfast function in September 2010, she testified, Bustamante, without warning, “caressed” her leg above her knee.
“I reacted, and I said ‘stop,’ ” the woman testified, adding that she pushed his hand away.
Then, a few weeks later, the incident happened in Bustamante’s office when he allegedly held her against her will while he tried to kiss her.
The secretary said she had just finished dropping off a document in Bustamante’s office when he closed the door and approached her.
She said he asked her for a hug and she replied that she doesn’t “do hugs.”
Despite her opposition, the secretary said, Bustamante put both of his arms around her and held her tight.
The secretary said she tried to block herself and push back by holding her forearms up, but he was “too strong” for her to move her arms.
As he held her, she said, “he was trying to kiss me” on her mouth as she repeatedly said “no” and moved her head side to side to try to avoid his lips.
Bustamante eventually kissed her on the neck, she said, and then let her go.
In addition, she said, there were two incidents in elevators where she believed he was trying to kiss her. After that, she said, she avoided leaving the office at the same time he did.
Outside of the court proceedings, people close to Bustamante have alleged that his female accusers are not credible and will fall apart under cross-examination.
During his former secretary’s testimony, Bustamante watched intently with his elbow leaned on his chair’s armrest and chin resting on his left hand.
The former secretary, meanwhile, had difficulty recalling key details at several points in her testimony, prompting her to repeatedly reference a transcript of her interview with prosecutors.
One other issue may develop during the preliminary hearing. The judge highlighted a potential issue facing prosecutors: the timing between the alleged crimes and when the prosecution began.
“There appears to be some kind of statute of limitations issue,” said Makino.
Prosecutors disagreed, arguing they’ll be able to establish that the alleged crimes occurred within the allowable timeframe.
Makino also admonished prosecutors to stay focused on their charges, instead of bringing in claims that were not part of the criminal charges, like those involving Bustamante’s alleged attempts to kiss his secretary in elevators.
“Do I have to hear about other sexual incidents to infer there’s a sexual motivation for him to kiss her on her neck [in the office]? I don’t think so,” Makino said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Bustamante's county severance pay. Voice of OC regrets the error.