Witness testimony wrapped up Friday in the preliminary hearing for former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante, with one alleged victim agreeing her only objection to his behavior in an elevator hugging incident, for which Bustamante is charged with assault, was that it happened during work hours.
The two were in a sexual relationship at the time, she also acknowledged, something she did not tell district attorney investigators during their first interview.
Prosecutors say Bustamante systematically targeted at least seven vulnerable women working under him at the Orange County Public Works Department, stalked them and then sexually terrorized them.
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.
Bustamante’s defense attorney, James Riddet, has focused on apparent contradictions in key witness testimony and questioned whether incidents with Bustamante were consensual.
The preliminary hearing before Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino is expected to last through next week. When it is over, he will decide if there is enough evidence against Bustamante for the case to go to trial.
Friday capped off a week of testimony from six alleged victims of Bustamante, who is charged with 12 sexual-related felonies and four misdemeanors, including false imprisonment, attempted sexual battery and stalking. A thirteenth felony charges him with grand theft for illegally obtaining more than $3,100 in tax funds as tuition reimbursement.
The hearing is scheduled to start again Tuesday afternoon with oral arguments from prosecutors and Riddet.
The woman who testified Friday, identified as Jane Doe H, had previously testified that in 2011 Bustamante tried to hug her in a Public Works Department elevator but she pushed him away.
Under questioning from Riddet she said she was in a sexual relationship with Bustamante at the time and her only objection was that he was trying to hug her during work hours.
Under questioning from prosecutors, meanwhile, the woman said she felt pressured into “giving in” to Bustamante’s sexual advances.
“He doesn’t give up,” she said. “He uses words to lead you into giving in.”
Bustmante was “so persistent,” she added, and was “in my personal space…it would just happen.”
Additionally, she said was concerned that getting on his bad side would lead Bustamante, who oversaw Human Resources in her department, to retaliate.
“He would talk about other women in the office and try to put people down,” the woman said. “My manager got a bad review from him because she was on his bad side.”
When she told Bustmante he would get in trouble, she added, “he would laugh it off and say that nothing would happen to him.”
“I knew that he was in with County Counsel and I knew that he was [previously] a cop and he was [overseeing] Human Resources” so complaints would come through him, she said.
At one point during her testimony, Makino disagreed with prosecutors that the witness had, up until then, demonstrated “an atmosphere of duress” due to Bustamante’s status in the office.
Asked by the judge if she had done or said anything to indicate his actions to her were against her will, the woman replied: “I just said I didn’t want it to happen again.”
Bustamante never threatened to cause physical injury or affect her work status, she added.
During testimony Thursday, Jane Doe H acknowledged that when district attorney investigators conducted a lengthy interview of her in 2012, she didn’t disclose that she previously had consensual sex with Bustamante.
Then in March 2013, she said, Riddet’s private investigator interviewed her and she admitted she hadn’t told the DA’s office.
Later that day, she said, she scheduled a meeting with the DA’s office and told them for the first time about the consensual sex.
Asked by Riddet why she concealed it from investigators, Jane Doe H said she didn’t want her boss, who at one point had her own consensual sexual relationship with Bustamante, to know.
“She would take it to a different level personally, which would…mean that my work would not be the same for me,” the woman said.
You can reach Nick Gerda at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.