Pension Board Set to Cut Bustamante’s Benefits

Tracy Wood/Voice of OC

Carlos Bustamante (left), the former county public works executive who pleaded guilty to sex crimes involving female county employees, at meeting of the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS) board in which board members were voting on whether to reduce his county pension. Sitting next to Bustamante is his lawyer, Edwin Brown.

Carlos Bustamante, the former county public works executive and onetime rising star in the Orange County Republican Party who is in jail for multiple felony sex crimes and theft of public funds, may also lose pension benefits because of his crimes.

The board of the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS) is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to dock Bustamente’s pension benefits due to his felonies “arising out of or in the performance of his official job duties.”

In 2015, Bustamante pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of stalking and attempted sexual battery by restraint. The crimes were against women who worked for OC Public Works while Bustamante, now 51, was one of the agency’s top administrators. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of grand theft by false pretense relating to education reimbursements he received from the county.

He was sentenced in January to one year in jail and is serving the time at the privately-operated Montebello City Jail,  where inmates pay to stay away from the general prison population.

California law says public employees who are convicted of felonies forfeit all retirement benefits from the date they committed their first felony through the date of conviction. According to the OCERS staff report, Bustamante will forfeit all benefits accrued between July 2, 2009 and Jan. 22 of this year, the date he was sentenced.

Bustamante, who was also a Santa Ana councilman, retired May 19, 2015, according to the OCERS staff report, and “OCERS is required to recoup any overpayments.”

But OCERS also must repay Bustamante, without interest, any retirement contributions he made after he committed his first felony, the staff report says.

If the board approves the staff recommendation, OCERS will deduct $23,855.81 from the $55,821.89 that Bustamante paid into the retirement plan after his first felony. The $23,855.81 is the amount OCERS determined it overpaid Bustamante since his retirement. It will give him a refund of $31,966.08.

Under the reduced plan, Bustamante will receive $3,096.86 a month or $37,162.32 a year in pension payments. His years of service will be cut by about two and one half years, from roughly 16.8 years to about 14.3 years.

A final calculation will be made after the board acts on Monday and Bustamante’s lawyer can appear at the meeting to argue against the reductions.

Bustamante’s top compensation during his tenure at OC Public Works was $244,637.10 in salary and benefits, according to the website Transparent California.

Following Bustamante's sentencing, Supervisors Todd Spitzer and Andrew Do in March called on OCERS to cut back Bustamante's pension in accordance with state law.

In July, the county settled lawsuits filed by two women who claimed to be victimized by Bustamante, paying each $500,000.

"I have continued to demand that OCERS, the County’s retirement system, terminate retirement benefits for County employees who so egregiously violate the trust of their constituents, being convicted of criminal acts committed during their employment," Spitzer said in a news release after the July settlement.

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.