An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday granted restraining orders against Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante on behalf of seven women who claim to be victims of his alleged sex crimes.
Deputy District Attorney Aleta Bryant argued that without the restraining orders the women would be too afraid to continue cooperating with prosecutors in their investigation of Bustamante, a former high-level manager in Orange County Public Works and rising star in the local Republican Party.
“These women were without a doubt intimidated by his position, by his statements, by his conduct,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s comments came during the first court hearing since Monday, when Bustamante was arrested on multiple charges, including six felony counts of false imprisonment, three of assault with intent to commit a sexual offense and one count each of stalking and attempted sexual battery by restraint. His arraignment on those charges and several misdemeanor crimes was rescheduled for July 26.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas alleges that Bustamante lured young Latina women into his office via phone calls or emails under the pretense that he wanted to discuss work-related matters. When each women entered his office, Bustamante closed the door behind her and begin hugging her, kissing her mouth, grabbing her breasts, moving her hands toward her vagina and masturbating in front of her, Rackauckas said.
In addition to issuing the restraining orders, Judge Gerald Johnston ordered Bustamante, the 47-year-old married father of three, to give up all his firearms within 72 hours. Among the tactics Bustamante used to keep the women he assaulted quiet, Rackauckas alleges, was to brag about his law enforcement training and talk about guns.
Bustamante appeared in court neatly groomed and flanked by several women. For three hours they waited, along with several reporters, for the proceedings to begin. One of the women with him rubbed Bustamante’s back as he waited.
Johnston denied a request by Bustamante’s attorney, James Riddet, for a gag order that would limit the Rackauckas’ ability to speak publicly about the case.
Riddet said that Rackauckas had staged an elaborate media show, which included a video of Bustamante’s arrest, a radio interview and a news conference providing lurid details of the alleged crimes. The ongoing publicity could taint the fairness of the trial, Riddet argued.
“Mr. Bustamante has a right to a fair trial,” Riddet told reporters after the proceedings.
Rackauckaus defended his media approach as appropriate. He said that the public had a right to know the allegations, particularly since they are against an elected official. “I don’t think we crossed any lines. I think we were measured in our statements,” Rackauckas said.
After the hearing, Rackauckas told reporters that his investigation will extend to the halls of the county administration building. And he didn’t rule out criminal charges against county officials who might have protected Bustamante.
“The investigation we’re conducting has to do with why Carlos Bustamante was able to do this for so long?” Rackauckas said. “These are important questions, and it’s possible there will be criminal implications.”
— ADAM ELMAHREK
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