Bustamante Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

Pool photo by Michael Goulding

Former Santa Ana City Councilman and ex-Orange County executive Carlos Bustamante in court in May 2014.

Carlos Bustamante, a former Orange County executive and one-time rising star in the local GOP, pleaded guilty late Friday morning to multiple sex crimes and theft of public funds, according to a press release from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Bustamante pled guilty to felony counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and grand theft by false pretense, as well as misdemeanor counts of false imprisonment, assault and attempted sexual battery.

Bustamante, 50, is expected to be sentenced to one year in jail and five years of formal probation, as well as mandatory lifetime sex offender registration starting Jan. 2016, according to the press release.

According to his attorney Brent Romney, Bustamante is likely to appear in court and begin serving time on Jan. 22nd.

“The issue has always been with Mr. Bustamante that if it were to go to trial, there was a reasonable possibility he would be convicted. If we went to trial, he could be convicted and go to prison, versus probation and some jail,” said Romney.  “The DA was very reasonable and straightforward and we negotiated very vigorously for an extended period of time.”

Romney said it is still unclear where Bustamante — who was a Santa Ana City Councilman at the time of his arrest — will serve out his jail time.

“Because of his background as a former police officer and city councilman, there’s a concern for his safety,” said Romney. “So the DA agreed to give us some time to arrange for a custodial setting or some other facility other than jail where he will be safe.”

Between 2009 and 2011, while an employee at OC Public Works, Bustamante is accused of victimizing several women working below him. Bustamante pled guilty Friday to crimes against five women.

Bustamante originally faced 12 felonies and four misdemeanors for sexual assault and other allegations over an eight-year period involving at least seven women who worked for him at the public works department. However, those charges were reduced twice by different judges before the case was set to go to trial in January.

The charge of grand theft relates to a trip Bustamante made in 2010 to attend a two and a half week workshop at the Harvard Kennedy School in Boston. He was reimbursed a total of $3,150, in violation of county policies.

The Bustamante case devastated the top echelons of the county bureaucracy, leading to the ousting of three top county executives, including then CEO Tom Mauk. They were pushed out after it became clear that the Human Resources department did not properly investigate allegations against Bustamante when they first surfaced.

Former Public Works director Jess Carbajal, who was fired shortly after Bustamante’s arrest, filed a wrongful termination suit against the county. A trial date has not been set.

The Bustamante scandal also prompted District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to call for the formation of a public integrity unit to address what he described as “the growing number of complaints and investigations of crimes involving people holding public office.”

At Friday’s hearing, DA prosecutors read statements from Bustamante’s victims.

“Before the assault, I would socialize, network and frequently attend work events…As much as I tried to avoid being in this situation, it doesn’t matter because I still got violated,” one victim said in a statement. “This is something I will have to struggle with for the rest of my life.”

A spokeswoman for the DA’s Office, Roxi Fyad, declined to comment citing a policy not to speak with Voice of OC.

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