The Carlos Bustamante sex abuse scandal took another step toward its closure Tuesday as Orange County supervisors approved settlements with two female county workers who accused the former county executive and Santa Ana councilman of sexually assaulting them.
The two employees will each receive $500,000 from the county under the settlement deals, which were approved on unanimous 4-0 votes. Supervisor Andrew Do was absent.
Bustamante was a high-ranking executive in OC Public Works and a rising star in the county Republican Party when female county workers started reporting sexual misconduct against him in 2011. The claims were initially referred to an underling of Bustamante’s to investigate — who reportedly joked with Bustamante about the allegations — and the issue was buried until the women later contacted the news media.
“This closes a really dark chapter in our county’s history,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer after Tuesday’s meeting.
“We have to really publicly apologize to [the victims], because clearly he was not supervised and he was allowed to get away with this type of behavior,” Spitzer said.
He added that Bustamante’s direct supervisor, former Public Works Director Jess Carbajal, was later fired by the county and then-CEO Tom Mauk was scheduled for termination and resigned. Carbajal later filed a wrongful termination suit that’s still unresolved.
In 2012, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Bustamante with 12 felonies and four misdemeanors for sexual assault and other allegations involving at least seven women who worked for him at OC Public Works. Those charges were reduced twice by different judges before the case was set to go to trial.
Bustamante ultimately accepted a plea deal from the DA’s office late last year. Under the deal, he pled guilty to felony counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint, and grand theft by false pretense; as well as misdemeanor counts of false imprisonment, assault and attempted sexual battery.
He was sentenced to one year behind bars, which he is currently serving at Montebello City Jail, a privately operated facility where inmates pay to serve their sentence away from the general prison population. Bustamante is also a registered sex offender for the rest of his life.
During court hearings in the criminal case, several women testified Bustamante’s influential political connections kept them from complaining or filing accusations against him because they believed nothing would happen and feared jeopardizing their jobs.
One female worker testified that Bustamante exposed his penis to her in his office, cornered her against the door and groped her breasts against her will. A different employee testified that he came into her office without invitation, exposed his penis and touched himself until he ejaculated.
Bustamante’s defense attorney, meanwhile, focused on apparent contradictions in some key witness testimony and questioned whether Bustamante’s behavior was consensual.
The Bustamante case revealed a stark lack of accountability among the county’s executive class, so much so that a subordinate was tasked with investigating misconduct allegations against a superior. It is something, Spitzer said, that “will never happen again.”
The victims’ attorney in their civil case, Rosemary Amezcua-Moll, said Bustamante’s actions have taken a major toll on her clients.
“Naturally, no amount of money solves this problem,” she said.
“[But] we are happy to see that the allegations were taken seriously from our perspective by the county, and they did at least recognize their exposure such that they sought to resolve this.”
While Tuesday’s action finishes the county’s role in the victims’ lawsuits, the plaintiffs are still suing Bustamante himself.
And like Carbajal, former Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis, has claimed in an ongoing lawsuit that she was wrongfully terminated in the wake of the scandal.
The $1 million for the victims’ settlements is slated to come out of taxpayer money from the county’s “property and casualty risk” fund, which is expected to pay out a total of $24 million in judgements and damages this fiscal year.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.