Two More OC District Attorney Investigators Allege Misconduct, Interference with Investigations

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas during his opening statement in the trial of Fullerton police officers involved in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. (Photo credit: Orange County Register)

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A high-ranking Orange County District Attorney prosecutor interfered with an investigation into Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, telling an investigator that they wouldn’t look into an alleged cover-up of a former Fullerton City Manager’s drunk driving because he and Hughes are friends, according to a government claim filed with the County of Orange Friday.

The claim is one of two filed by current OCDA investigators, Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos, alleging they reported misconduct within the office to higher-ups but faced retaliation for whistle-blowing, especially after going to the Orange County Grand Jury.

The claims paint a picture of a District Attorney’s office “micromanaged” by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who “rewards his friends and punishes his enemies.”

“Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, and Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Lubinski were all involved in a cover-up, and they are all beholden to DA Rackauckas,” Conklin’s 13-page claim reads. “The culture in the OCDA office is one of punishing disloyalty.”

The claims come just two weeks after the DA’s chief investigator, Craig Hunter, filed an explosive claim alleging Rackauckas interfered in political corruption investigations involving friends and political supporters.

The DA’s office strongly denied Hunter’s allegations but didn’t comment Friday on the latest accusations.

Spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said the office learned of the most recent complaints Friday through the media.

“Both claims are personnel matters involving litigation and as such, we are unable to discuss or provide additional information at this time,” Van Der Linden said.

The claims were filed against 11 DA officials, including Rackauckas, Baytieh, Lubinski and Wagner.

Filing the claims is a precursor to a lawsuit. If the county doesn’t respond within 45 days, or formally rejects the claim, the two investigators have grounds to sue.

Santos writes in his 16-page claim that Hughes, who is now the Assistant Director of Security for Disneyland, dispatched Sergeant Jeff Corbett in the early morning hours of November 9 to pick up then-City Manager Joe Felz at the scene of a DUI, and drive him home. Santos claims Hughes was calling in a favor from Corbett, who was once caught by another police officer having sex in his patrol car while on duty, but was never disciplined.

When Santos told Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh that he was concerned about a possible cover-up of Felz’s DUI and the criminal obstruction of justice by Hughes, Baytieh allegedly responded, “I am friends with Chief Hughes and we are only going to be investigating the DUI and not anything else,” Santos claims.

Hughes, contacted through a Disney representative, did not return a request for comment Friday.

Fullerton Interim City Manager Allan Roeder declined to comment, citing a pending personnel investigation by the city into the handling of Felz’s DUI. Roeder said the city was awaiting the results of the DA investigation before taking its own action and has not been notified of its status.

Alleged Prosecutorial Misconduct

In a separate claim, Conklin alleges Deputy District Attorney Cameron Talley, who now is retired from the DA’s office, failed to turn over crucial information to defense attorneys in the case of Stephenson Choi Kim, who was found guilty of one count of murder and six counts of attempted murder in a shooting at a Cypress café in 2004.

The District Attorney’s office is under investigation by Department of Justice, California Attorney General and Orange County Grand Jury for separate allegations that they violated criminal defendants’ rights by depriving their defense attorneys of key information obtained by jailhouse informants.

Kim, who was convicted of murder in 2011, was seeking a mistrial based on allegations Cypress Police Department investigator Susan White lied under oath, testifying a witness positively identified Kim as the shooter, when the witness failed to do so on two separate occasions.

That triggered the DA’s office to assign Conklin to investigate whether White committed perjury. According to Conklin’s claim, his investigation concluded that White “falsely manufactured” police reports and committed perjury on the witness stand.

Conklin claims when he submitted the results of his investigation, he was berated by Talley, for “doing the defense’s dirty work” and not waiting until after Kim was sentenced to complete his investigation, because now he would be required to turn over some of the investigation’s results to defense attorneys.

For the next four years, Conklin assumed either Talley, Lubinski, Deputy District Attorney Aleta Bryant or his supervisor Anthony Sosnowski, who all had been briefed on the investigation, had turned over the information to defense attorneys. But in 2015 he read an article in the OC Weekly about Kim’s case that didn’t mention his investigation into White. He then claims to have contacted defense attorneys himself in March and April 2017 to tell them about the perjury investigation.

In February 2016, Conklin claims Wagner tried to cover up the fact that the CD was never given to defense attorneys by slipping it into an envelope with other evidence that defense attorneys forgot to pick up, to create the appearance the information was available the whole time.

He claims that he was “marginalized, harassed and subjected to adverse actions by his superiors at the highest level of the OCDA” as a result of his actions.

Retaliation for Testifying before the Grand Jury

Santos and Conklin both say they were removed from a four-month investigation into a man planning a “Sandy Hook-style” shooting after they testified before the OC Grand Jury in late February and March of 2017.

According to Conklin, in a meeting with Lubinski, Lubinski told Conklin the human resources department was concerned it would “look bad” if he testified before the Grand Jury and advised him to “cancel his appearance or reschedule it.” Conklin testified two days later.

About two weeks later, Santos had a meeting with the assistant chief of investigations, Lou Gutierrez, in which he claims Gutierrez promised an assignment in the Special Investigations Unit if Santos stopped associating with Conklin.

Gutierrez allegedly told Santos, “I am watching you and I will bring you up in this organization” and warned him against testifying, saying “that if Santos didn’t bring certain things up then he wouldn’t have to lie about them,” according to Santos’ complaint.

Santos also claims that he was the subject of false rumors that he was sexually harassing a fellow employee.

Joel Baruch, the attorney for both Conklin and Santos, said Hunter, the chief investigator who filed a complaint weeks earlier, was “part of the problem” and facilitated retaliation against the two investigators.

Hunter, who was ousted in April, was also the subject of earlier allegations that he received and sent nude photographs on his county-issued cell phone.

While no investigation report has been made public regarding the sexting claims, Hunter’s attorney says they were found to be false. And they are apparently unrelated to Hunter’s current employment situation at the DA’s office.

This story was updated on 5/27/17 at 6:00 p.m.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Susan White testified multiple witnesses positively identified Kim as the shooter. White only identified one witness. 

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • I would really like to see Judge Goethals throw his hat into the ring for DA even if he runs as a republican I believe would vote for him.

  • LFOldTimer

    Rackauckas was on KFI radio this Tuesday morning.

    The host asked him specifically about the allegations from the DA investigators. Naturally he failed to answer the question and time ran out.

    The DA is as slippery as an oiled snake.

    Like a fighter with cuts above both eyes and impaired vision he’s taking wild swings and only connecting with air.

    What a shameful county justice operation – one that is expected to be the epitome of integrity.

  • Daniel Lamb

    I fear the people behind this blog are exploiting the contradictions inherent in being a modern guy to bait police officers, among others, to doing things sexually inappropriate and then extorting them for personal gain. This is horrific and treacherous. We may need to set up Special Constitutional Courts to hold the guilty accountable. Once the good American people know of the evil going on at the top, they will demand justice.

    • Daniel Lamb

      While I can’t promise that I’ll approve of your conduct, if you come to me saying you are being extorted, I swear I will not judge you. I will help you unleash a world of legal fury against the anti-American jerks undermining our democracy.

  • astar2b

    We need DA Kang to take over…!

    • Shirley L. Grindle

      You have got to be kidding!

    • Bob Brock

      Frying pan to fire. No thank you.

  • Paul Lucas

    When is Goethals going to start throwing people in jail?

    • LFOldTimer

      Good question.

      Let’s hope the FBI, the DOJ, the AG and the OC Grand Jury ensures that justice prevails.

      The integrity and sanctity of our justice system. the backbone of civilization, depends on it.

      Otherwise we live in a state of selective anarchy where 2 separate and distinct sets of law apply – one for the oligarchs and one for everyone else.

  • Ricardo Ochoa

    This is obstruction of justice. The DA will hold on to power for as long as he can in a bid to make this scandal seem fictional.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Does the public have any idea how many good OC County Employees lost their careers trying to report wrongdoing from this crime family?

    • Scott Smith

      Same! Does Public have any idea how many good OC City Employees losing their careers to report wrongdoing from their agencies?

      • OCservant_Leader

        Good Point! The OC Criminal Family in power has tentacles in all government bodies in OC- especially the Cities – where they work hand-in-glove to pull off their corruption.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Oh the retaliation is textbook from reporting crimes within the OC …geez I miss my days at the County!

  • Daniel Lamb

    I recently hired an attorney to address what was egregious conduct on the part of the DA’s office. Egregious conduct that was very obviously retaliation for political advocacy, among other things. The DA is more than a one man though. It’s a big office. A switch at the top is not the sole answer though, sorry Supervisor Spitzer. It is not a stretch to say that something is terribllywrong within the County’s political establishment. It’s no excuse, but a sign of the times perhaps… When it all over, there will be a lot of work to do. (Not that it matters, but I’m not a convict FYI)

    • LFOldTimer

      Spitzer is not part of the solution.

      Spitzer is part of the problem.

    • Roger Gill

      I’ll bet Supervisor Spitzer would crack down and disband the cronyism we see at the DA’s office.

      • LFOldTimer

        Yeah, like he has in county government. lol.

      • Daniel Lamb

        If cronyism exists at the DA’s office, that is very significant. Cronyism on a city council is bad, but it’s, mas o menos, a political question. Cronyism within the law and order community ultimately means there is no law and order. With respect to a Sup. Spitzer, I don’t know him well, but what I’ve seen consists of vindictiveness, pandering and cosying up to lobbyist, labor and money… not exactly our white knight… he’s pretty though…

        • Daniel Lamb

          If anyone would like examples of Sup. Spitzer cosying up to lobbyist, labor and money, by all means, reach out. You won’t read about it here, a place ultimetly controlled by a labor union and a plaintiff’s attorney.

  • LFOldTimer

    Boy, when it rains it pours.

    The rot just continues oozing out of the apple barrel.

    Looks like many VOC commenters on the Felz DUI case were spot on. Isn’t that special? And former Chief Hughes won’t return phone calls regarding the allegations? Hold it. I thought Chief Dan was the transparent Chief, particularly after the beating death of Kelly Thomas? ha. Come on, Dan. We’d like to hear your side to the story. Did you come down with a sudden case of laryngitis?

    Again, the rot is exposed only after there’s a falling out between the alpha males in charge. Prior to, we’ve heard nothing from the insiders about any of this dishonesty, impropriety, misconduct. lol.

    This is the reason those who run government operations are normally especially gracious and nice (at least outwardly) to one another because everyone has dirt on everyone else. You rarely see a top official in government axe a direct subordinate in management for this very reason. All of them have secrets. Even if a forced resignation can’t be avoided due to public pressure, the one let go usually gets a big fat golden parachute going-away gift and his buddies in-charge throw a party for him. Remember the former County CEO? All of them circle the wagons for each other. The DA situation is an unusual matter that has turned into a train wreck in motion. For those of you who believe in Karma – this may strengthen your resolve.

    Folks, we live in a very dirty world. Cover ups and corruption are the order of the day. It’s nearly impossible to find a decent apple in the entire government barrel. They’ve taken our beloved county and country and turned it into a house of ill repute. Me? I don’t have that much time left on the planet so I wouldn’t really give a damn, except for the mess I’ll leave behind for the young people who deserve much better. My parents sacrificed to make life for my generation better than their own. Now we turn around and sh*t on those who follow us. We are the most spoiled and rotted and selfish generation in the history of the United States.

    Society has lost it’s moral compass – at the very top of the food chain. And world history tells us that the fish always rots at the head. Just a matter of time before the rot infects the lower strata of our population and we are truly a 3rd world banana republic.

    Look, if you can’t trust the ones who actually run the justice system – what hope is there left? Seriously?

    After all this, if the ones investigating the county justice system – the FBI and the OC Grand Jury – conclude that no one in the DA’s office or at OCSD broke any laws and all we need to do is provide better training – my friends – it’s over. If there are no indictments. It’s over. At that point we live in a cess pool of selected anarchy and we’re all on our own.

    Pray hard, my friends. The future of your children is now in the hands of those who are supposed to follow and administer that basic American principle of “Equality under the Law” and mete out impartial justice irrespective of the social status or titles of the wrongdoers.

    Pray hard.

    • Scott Smith

      Other cities too.

    • Scott Smith

      LF, add Westminster to cities to review. VoiceofOC covered two council who were supposedly being investigated by D.A. Has any news come out from D.A. Spokeswoman Kang on how those turned out?

  • verifiedsane

    Where is the State AG, FBI, & DOJ?

    • OCservant_Leader

      This is OC SOP!
      I saw this everyday.