Craig Hunter, the former chief investigator to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, is leveling a series of explosive allegations against the top prosecutor, including claims Rackauckas “interfered” in corruption investigations of his political allies.
Hunter, who abruptly left his position last month, said in a legal claim against the county he investigated “a number of political corruption cases” and provided Rackauckas information about them.
“In general, Rackauckas interfered in political corruption criminal investigations in the County of Orange, involving candidates that he endorsed politically,” states Hunter’s legal claim, which was filed by attorney Bradley C. Gage.
No names of candidates were listed in the claim, a copy of which Gage provided to Voice of OC.
“This information will be provided in detail at the appropriate time. However, it is part of the reasons why [Hunter] is now a whistleblower victim,” the claim states.
Hunter’s claim says he was retaliated against – and ultimately given the option of resigning or being fired – after Rackauckas learned Hunter had given testimony to the county’s grand jury that “could be highly embarrassing” to Rackauckas.
“On multiple instances, [Hunter] complained and or disclosed violations of various laws and statutes by Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney” and others, the claim states.
Asked when the corruption allegations will be further explained, Gage said it depends on whether the county resolves Hunter’s claim.
If the county doesn’t resolve it, Gage said, “it comes out, and it won’t be pretty.” Hunter expects to return to work on May 21 or 22, he added.
Legal claims are filed with government agencies as a precursor to filing a lawsuit and are typically required before filing the lawsuit.
Rackauckas’ office disputed Hunter’s claims, but said they were barred from discussing specifics unless Hunter gives his permission.
“A legal claim filled with false allegation [sic] and factually inaccurate information was filed by Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) employee Craig Hunter — clearly with the goal of trying to get money from Orange County Taxpayers,” said the DA’s statement.
“The OCDA would like nothing more than to share all of the details about Mr. Hunter’s employment and the merits of the claim. In order for us to do this, Mr. Hunter needs to simply sign some documents that would allow us to tell our side of the story. Mr. Hunter and his attorney know full well that because this is a personnel matter, without his consent, the OCDA would be handcuffed from publicly responding to these allegations. We do not expect him to do so, as transparency in this matter would only expose the falsehoods and inaccuracies in his frivolous claim. That said, we are calling on Mr. Hunter to immediately waive any and all rights to confidentially so that the public can know what actually happened.”
In his claim, Hunter also alleges wrongful behavior by Rackauckas’ chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder.
Schroeder gathered “nomination signatures in the office for Tony Rackauckas’ re-election,” the claim states.
Additionally, Hunter’s claim says he “advised Tony Rackauckas that Schroeder during times she should have been at work, was sending out requests for individuals to come to a fund raiser for Tony Rackauckas. While this went from a private computer, it was sent during normal working hours that Schroeder was paid for. Schroeder was frequently out of the office.”
And, Hunter’s claim says, Schroeder used Rackauckas’ name to raise money through a nonprofit and then used that money to promote her private business partner, musician Scott Foster. The claim also suggests Rackauckas failed to disclose the payments as required by law. Such payments to nonprofits at the request of elected and top government officials are known as “behested payments.”
As of 2015, Schroeder was president of a music promotion company with Foster, known as M3Connection, from which Schroeder received income while also working as Rackauckas’ full-time chief of staff. Foster performed at annual rock concerts sponsored by Rackauckas and the DA’s office, and then used videos of his performance to promote his career.
It’s the latest round of wrongdoing leveled at the DA’s office, which is embroiled in a U.S. Justice Department investigation into alleged illegal misuse of jailhouse informants and concealment of evidence. In November, a state appeals court reviewing the allegations ruled Rackauckas’ office “violated targeted defendants’ constitutional rights” and “intentionally or negligently” ignored violations by the Sheriff’s Department.
After retiring as Anaheim’s deputy police chief in 2012, Hunter joined Rackauckas’ office in early 2014 as the chief of the DA’s Bureau of Investigations, overseeing about 240 employees.
But last month, Rackauckas suddenly announced Hunter was gone.
“Effective immediately, Craig Hunter is off duty and not expected to return,” Rackauckas told his staff in an email April 24.
Rackauckas’ office has not said why Hunter left.
“Due to the protection afforded by the Police Officers Bill of Rights and the laws protecting personnel matters, the OCDA is prohibited from discussing the facts surrounding the employment status of its employees,” spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden wrote last month in a statement.
But the DA’s office did respond to Hunter’s departure by saying it “will continue to take swift and appropriate action to maintain the excellent work” in the investigations bureau.
Meanwhile, Hunter’s attorney says his client was wrongfully acted against and expects to return to work soon.
The reason Hunter was out of the office was because of a “minor medical issue,” Gage said in a phone interview Friday evening. “I don’t even know that he’s been terminated.”
Hunter has been cleared by a medical professional to return to work on Sunday May 21, Gage said, and expects to come back that day or Monday the 22nd.
“He is coming back, and he’s healthy and he’s ready to work. And so hopefully they’ll allow him to,” he said.
“What they’re really trying to do is go after him because he’s a whistleblower. And that’s wrong. And there certainly is a lot to be a whistleblower on.”
Gage also disputed suggestions that Hunter’s departure was related to allegations he improperly used his work phone to receive sexual text messages.
Any discipline against a peace officer, such as Hunter, must legally take place within a year of the allegation, Gage said, while the “sexting” allegations were made two years prior to Hunter’s departure.
Hunter was the subject of allegations he sent and received sexual text messages – including nude photos – using his county-owned cell phone. The results of any investigation, if one was conducted, have not been made public by the DA or county.
Those sexting allegations were found to be false, Gage said.
In the claim, Hunter also alleges Rackauckas “failed to conduct an investigation” after Hunter informed him of rumors that one of his highest-ranking prosecutors was having an affair with another high-ranking DA official.
Additionally, Hunter’s claim states, “A supervisor got his administrative assistant pregnant without investigation. However, Tony Rackauckas would investigate rumors of others rumored to be but not involved in sexual relations as a way to retaliate against whistleblower employees.”
The County Counsel’s office released part of Hunter’s claim to Voice of OC Friday, but redacted the specific allegations against Rackauckas and Schroeder.
A decision on whether to release the full claim will be made within 10 days, Senior Assistant County Counsel Jack Golden told a Voice of OC reporter Friday.
Legal claims against the county were previously available immediately upon request at the Clerk of the Board’s office. But the county recently implemented a policy requiring that legal claims first be reviewed by an attorney.
As for Hunter, his attorney suggested Rackauckas could be concerned about the grand jury testimony.
“[Hunter] has provided testimony to the grand jury, which maybe Rackauckas is concerned about,” Gage said.
“My client has a right to talk to the grand jury. And nobody has the right to go after him for that,” he added. “If that is the reason, then that’s wrongful.”
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.