Three years ago, former Santa Ana Councilman Carlos Bustamante was arrested while en route to a City Council meeting and charged with felony sex crimes against several women.
His criminal trial – in which he faces two felony counts of false imprisonment, and single counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery and grand theft – is scheduled to begin Sept. 25.
But on Tuesday night it was like old times, with council members warmly greeting Bustamante in his return to the council chambers.
He took center stage with Jannett Mendoza -- the 33-year-old owner of Kutsi restaurant who was being recognized that night for her restaurant’s grand opening – and was touted as a successful consultant for downtown restaurants.
“It’s great to see you,” Councilman David Benavides told Bustamante before the meeting audience. “And great to have you back in the house.”
Said Mendoza: “Carlos Bustamante, if it wasn’t for him, I would not be here today.”
Some in the audience looked on in wide-eyed amazement. One attendee snapped a photo and sent it to reporters. Local activist Joesé Hernandez would later point out during public comments the absurdity of having only three minutes to speak while the council allows a “disgraced ex-councilman” to have the limelight for 10 minutes.
"What balls!" Commented one City Hall observer upon hearing about Bustamante's appearance.