Former county public works executive Carlos Bustamante, indicted on felony charges of sexually abusing women who worked for him, has switched lawyers and is set to level his own accusations at county leaders.
“He (Bustamante) was attacked as a way to get to (former county CEO) Tom Mauk,” Gina L. Kershaw, one of Bustamante’s new attorneys, said Thursday. “He got caught in the middle.”
Kershaw said the accusations against Bustamante are “a complete set up by the DA’s office to get to Tom Mauk, which they ultimately did. The DA’s office went in and basically bullied those women” who leveled the sexual abuse accusations against Bustamante.
Mauk was the county Chief Executive Officer at the time a series of internal reports about Bustamante’s alleged abuse of women workers were developed.
It’s largely unclear how county supervisors at the time (Chairman Bill Campbell, Pat Bates, Janet Nguyen, John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson) handled the crisis because they have fought to keep records about Bustamante from becoming public. Voice of OC and open records advocate Californians Aware had to go to court to get at least some of the records opened to the public.
Ultimately Mauk and several other top executives left as a result of the Bustamante case.
At a preliminary hearing last month Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino dismissed more than half of the felony charges that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed against Bustamante.
He still faced five alleged felonies and four misdemeanors, but this week the district attorney’s office refiled most of the charges that Makino dismissed. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 15.
Kershaw said as part of Bustamante’s defense, she plans to “start letting people know what’s really going on—what’s happening in the county.”
Among other things, she said, Bustamante made himself unpopular with some other county executives when he started cutting expenses—including refusing to lease three expensive SUVs for executives to use as personal cars—to save the county money.
“Carlos is a great guy,” Kershaw said.
Although the county receives substantial federal funds for many of its projects, Kershaw said so far Bustamante hasn’t spoken to the FBI about any concerns he may have had about how federal money was spent.
“That’s kind of a side matter,” said Kershaw.
She and Costa Mesa attorney Steven R. Young are replacing James D. Riddet, one of the county’s most prominent criminal defense attorneys, as Bustamante’s lawyers.
Riddet, who made his reputation defending cases in federal court and county officials accused of public corruption, is certified by the California State Bar as a criminal defense specialist and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among his early clients was former Board of Supervisors Chairman Ralph Diedrich, who was convicted and spent time in prison for fraud and taking bribes.
Young’s law firm emphasizes civil cases and, according to the State Bar web site, Kershaw nine years ago had her license briefly suspended and was placed on six months probation after being convicted of three misdemeanor counts of paying someone to refer clients to the firm where she worked at the time. Another lawyer at the firm initiated the kickback scheme.
“She complied with all probation conditions and her record was expunged,” according to the case summary. It said she cooperated with law enforcement and sold her home to pay a $20,000 fine.
“I admitted it and did a month’s suspension and put it behind me,” Kershaw said in a telephone interview. “I owned up to what I did and took the consequences.”