Santana: Controversial Grand Jury Jailhouse Snitch Report Puts Focus on DA Race

Nick Berardino confronts Mario Mainero, chief of staff to Supervisor John Moorlach while OCEA legal counsel Don Droozd looks on.

They blew it.

Despite what District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens want to tell themselves, many insiders I’ve talked to believe our local grand jury got taken in the biggest inquiry they’ve undertaken in years.

In the big rollout event for their report last week, “The Myth of the Orange County Jailhouse Informant Program,” which also was accompanied by the biggest budget request in years, we saw a grand jury, and their foreperson, take the stand on behalf of an embattled agency like never before.

Over the past several years, it has become very clear to those of us following courtroom testimony and judicial decisions that there have been instances where deputies have been utilizing jailhouse snitches to get testimony for legal cases and disclosure of those networks to prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges has broken down.

Despite the grand jury’s attempt to study the issue, its still unclear to me how widespread the use of informants has become.

I know it’s central to our system of justice that when you are accused of a crime, the government can’t keep interrogating you while you are in custody awaiting trial and your attorney is not present.

That seems to have happened systematically in Orange County jails.

Yet to listen to Dr. Carrie Carmody, who led the grand jury, the enemy is the media.

It’s a popular song these days and in many cases, it’s well-deserved scorn.

Our own newsroom has been organized to try to counter the lack of depth on civic coverage.

Yet the media didn’t invent informants.

We are the first, rough draft of history. And unlike our current grand jury, we have to question without subpoena power. That means we can’t operate on faith.

Faith seems like something that was in too ready supply with this grand jury.

Reading the parts of the grand report indicating how many people had been interviewed and documents reviewed, reminded me of the same speech that President Nixon’s Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, gave to journalists when the administration insisted the Watergate hearings needed to be terminated as a witch hunt.

Kliendienst later ended up resigning, finding his faith was terribly misplaced.

Now, I’m a big fan of our local grand jury. I think it’s the highest form of service a citizen can render to their community and I think all these people deserve respect and are well meaning.

They just got it wrong.

Let’s hope that Judge Thomas Goethals doesn’t listen to them and end his hearings.

We all need to figure out exactly what kind of intelligence network has been operating in our local jails and what its impact on local justice has been.

It seems to me that our local grand jury was led to construct a paper tiger of sorts – the existence of a formal jailhouse network – and then set out to furiously tear it up, almost as if they were prosecutors themselves.

Yet despite their authoritative statements about the lack of time sheets and other organizational documents for jailhouse snitches, their inquiry went silent on the six other cases that prosecutors have dropped against serious criminals recently, reportedly because of informant use problems.

I kept looking for those cases in the grand jury report and found no mention of them, which left me stunned.

If there’s no formal use of informants, why were these cases against serious criminals dropped?

Rackauckas’ recent editorial in the Orange County Register celebrating the grand jury’s report is also silent on these cases.

In addition, testimony from Sheriff’s officials in Goethals’ court these last few weeks definitely seems to point to the utilization of an informant’s program.

Lastly, the grand jury and Rackauckas also both went silent on the most recent decision by the Fourth Appellate District Court – one that most definitely keyed in on the existence of an informant network.

Now, as Carmody explained, exploring the use of those kinds of networks is not something the grand jury is capable of examining and is currently under review, reluctantly it seems, both by the California Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney General.

That makes me wonder whether our grand jurors are better off sticking to nuts and bolts issues, like animal shelters or weak governmental homelessness response, rather than trying to tackle jailhouse intelligence networks.

Unfortunately, the agencies charged with investigating this don’t seem too interested in a deep dive.

The California AG arguing in court against taking over prosecution of the Dekraai case that prompted this debate. And U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions meanwhile has indicated he’s scaling way back on civil rights division cases, which would impact any probe on informants.

During Sessions’ recent rough hearings on Capitol Hill, which featured tense exchanges between him and California Senator Kamala Harris (our former California AG), I found it ironic that probably the only thing both had in common was their collective lack of action on the snitch scandal in Orange County.

So what’s the takeaway?

When it comes to local government, we can’t always rely on institutions like the grand jury or the California Attorney General or the federal Department of Justice.

Most often at the local level, accountability comes down to the people we put in office.

So far, it’s come down to one public defender, Scott Sanders, and one judge, Goethals, as the people who are holding our government accountable.

Now, the snitch scandal also has really put a heightened focus on our main law enforcement job in Orange County, one that’s up for election next year, the District Attorney.

This past Friday, after reading the grand jury report several times, I spent some time visiting with the Chapman University law professor who people like state Sen. John Moorlach are pointing to as a possible third-option candidate for the DA job.

Mario Mainero was just voted the school’s most popular law professor and was a central force behind the recent adoption of a countywide ethics commission.

Now, I’m not endorsing anybody in the DA’s race but I thought readers should know more about the person people are pointing to as an alternative to Rackauckas or his main challenger, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, especially because I covered him closely during my tenure as a reporter at the Orange County Register.

Before heading to Chapman Law School, Mainero was a controversial figure as a chief of staff to Moorlach during his tenure as an Orange County Supervisor.

Mainero’s main strength and weakness as a public servant are the same.

He’s totally apolitical, which is how he says he’ll run the DAs’ office.

And when he sees himself in the right, he doesn’t back down…or off.

Mainero gained the intense ire of the Deputy Sheriff’s union when he helped devise, along with former County Supervisor Chris Norby’s Chief of Staff Eric Norby, the controversial lawsuit that tried to eliminate retroactive pension benefits for law enforcement. County officials eventually lost the suit on appeal and Mainero and Moorlach were both criticized for wasting taxpayers’ dollars on a bad lawsuit.

When union members flooded the fifth floor of the Hall of Administration in a historic protest over budget cuts, most politicians stayed behind closed doors. Mainero came out right in the midst of an angry crowd and stood toe to toe, arguing with Nick Berardino, then-GM for the Orange County Employees Association.

Mainero was also a key figure in the Chamberlain jailhouse murder case that spawned the aimless Office of Independent Review in 2008. Once the scandal – a man accused of child molestation beaten to death while guards watch TV – started unfolding, Moorlach sent Mainero to the jail, where he immediately documented everything he saw, such as TVs being taken out of the guard shacks, and later shared his insights in public about the lack of accountability inside the jails.

While he worked with Rackauckas and Hutchens on OIR, Mainero and Rackauckas also have clashed.

When it came time to review the odd dealings of the politically influential board of directors for the OC Fairgrounds, and their deal to buy the property as a non-profit, Mainero was central in a county counsel letter to Rackauckas from county supervisors that forced an investigation.

Rackauckas later produced multiple reports that cleared the board and criticized Mainero.

A staunch Catholic, Mainero also got on the bad side of Rackauckas when he suggested that our current DA save money by cutting back on death penalty appeals.

During our chat, which was cut short due to a student needed tutoring, Mainero admitted to me he’s no politician, saying his wife is advising him against running, wanting him to guard his health by staying at Chapman, which by all accounts seems to be a good fit.

Yet Mainero also told me he is deeply troubled by what’s come out about the snitch scandal, saying he sees it as a clearly a systemic problem for both prosectors and the jail.

He saw this most recent grand jury report as totally flawed, adding it has really galvanized him to run.

Mainero told me he gives much more weight to the Fourth District Court of Appeals decision criticizing the systemic use of jailhouse snitches and believes Orange County’s criminal justice complex is in trouble because of a “win at all costs mentality.”

That phrase keeps popping up lately, first in Rackauckas’ own internal reviews and now it’s even made its way into in the very grand jury report that Rackauckas himself is waving all over town as vindication on the current snitches scandal.

Could it become the slogan behind next year’s District Attorney’s race?

  • Lyanna Lyns

    Mainero is a liar. He was well aware of the corruption and abuse that Spitzer is up to his neck in, he even wrote letters and emails to parties involved. He hid the filth for the County BoS to avoid a mess, and now that mess is about to go public, so he will have to answer for ignoring what was happening and trying to cover it up. God…every GOPer in County Government is a slimesucking coward, and Mainero is no exception.

  • Lyanna Lyns

    Todd Spitzer is a corrupt slimeball coward who hides behind his wife’s skirts and robe to keep from testifying in court. Whatever T-Rack’s faults, he is not a man who takes bribes and contributions from organized crime figures, or who looks the other way as hundreds of helpless men, women and children are raped, robbed, neglected, brutalized and killed on his watch. Spitzer did, and then he used the Sheriffs to cover it up. Todd Spitzer wants to act like he is Paul Ryan Light, truth is, he is as sleazy as any pimp hustler on Harbor Blvd. and should be in prison. Spitzer made one mistake too many, and now he’s stepped in the Industrial Toxic Waste Poo, and this doesn’t come off. It took eight years, countless boxes of documents and case files, and serious tracking, but Spitzer has sealed his fate into political oblivion. His woobie friends, Moorlach and Nguyen and Bates, will sell him out faster than you can say “Grand Jury Subpoena”, and he will be one more bland, idiotic, low IQ politico who reached way too high and didn’t cover his tracks. Bye, Toddy…no one will miss you.

  • john smead

    If the DA chooses to argue that the GJ report vindicates him that is his choice. Please read the whole report. They say is there was no conspiracy between the OCSD and the OCDA office to defraud inmates of their rights and the violations that did occur were limited in scope to a handful of people in both offices. The GJ report states that violations did occur and they occurred over many years. Having a handful of offenses occur over 8 years out of many many thousands of cases, however, does not represent a systemic problem. Even one offense is not acceptable, however, it does not rise, as they pointed out, to the level of a systemic conspiracy.They also noted that the DA office was forced, as a result of the legal inquiries, to reexamine past cases and as we know another handful sentences were consequently reduced or thrown out.
    They also commented on the lack of leadership and training in the DA office. Does that sound like vindication? Many good things occur in the DA’s office as the GJ notes, but the DA has “an affirmative duty” to assure that some things do not occur. They occurred and, as the GJ noted, no apparent repercussions occurred to those who engaged in the offenses. That is not vindication.

  • verifiedsane

    Appeals court upholds ruling that O.C. prosecutors misused informants –
    The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously Friday that Orange
    County prosecutors withheld evidence from defense lawyers and misused a
    jailhouse informant

  • OCservant_Leader

    Former BOS CoS Mainero is obviously part of the OC Family.

    We need someone OUTSIDE the organized crime family.

    • Lyanna Lyns


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  • Daniel Lamb

    It is not a “win at all costs mentality”, it is a power at all costs mentality. All things considered, there is a difference.

  • B Dalton

    It’s apparent the voters of Orange County are content with the “Status Quo”, they keep voting in a crooked DA and Sheriff. But God help them if they’re ever confined to Orange County Jail System before they ever get to the court system. Maybe we could jail the DA and Sheriff and let the system violate their rights before they made a court appearance. And my old Dad told me son it “takes crook to catch a crook.” And I can’t think of another time when this isn’t more true. Voters do you like the crooked DA and Sheriff representing you, I don’t and will vote that way.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Norberto is too kind. The OC Grand Jury didn’t just trip and make a mistake oops…NO – this was a deliberate Public Relations hit piece orchestrated by the corrupt FAMILY in power!

    Carmody is the spokehole for this 6th grade level investigation. This is classis OC. Pin it on an incompetent “Dr. of Phd” who apparently doesn’t know anything about research. They hand pick these types carefully. They are usually in love with “power” and will do whatever they are told.

    I want to know WHO is she related to? She is part of the club in some way – maybe she goes to the Sheriff’s same church or her children sing in the band with DA Kang?

    The Grand Jury INTENTIONALLY did not include any evidence that didn’t support their “MYTH” they were spinning.

    The FACT that the OC DA has released convicted criminals due to their illegal informant program is the “smoking gun” of the snitch tank.

    The Family appears very confident they can weather this scandal by controlling all attempts to uncover their organized crime structure.

  • loudchapina

    Best photo of Mainero. I can still see the spit spewing out of Berardino’s mouth that day! Good times on the 5th floor!

  • Bill421

    Anyone but T-Rach

  • Rosie Lee

    Oh please…Mainero. This article is clutching at straws. Last thing we need in OC is someone with zero experience prosecuting our criminals.

  • Jessica Davis

    Mario Mainero for DA. What a joke. This guy has no prosecutorial experience whatsoever. How can this article highlight his career as a logical stepping stone to DA.? Just because we have a corrupt a-hole for a DA who needs to get booted ASAP doesn’t mean we should replace him with a jumped-up opportunist.

  • astar2b

    We need DA Kang to take over…!

    • LFOldTimer


      I wouldn’t vote for her as the chief dogcatcher.

    • Bob Brock

      astar2b is an amusing one-trick, one-comment pony, but thankfully the public knows she and T-Rack are both poisonous fruit from the same poisonous tree.

      • Lyanna Lyns

        And Herr ToddyTwoFace Coward is a whole different tree of poison. Very quickly, the public will know that, as well. Thank God…

    • verifiedsane

      Love <3 and Kisses <3 , Tony

    • OCservant_Leader

      Hello DA Susan-Kang-Schroeder – now SHUT IT!!

  • LFOldTimer

    My first choice for a 3rd DA candidate would be Judge Goethals. I realize that’s probably a pipe dream. Naturally the DA’s office would oppose him tooth and nail because he would force them to clean up their rot. Sort of like the swamp dwellers in both the Democrat and Republican parties hate Trump and are still trying to bring him down for aspiring to clean up a dirty system. But Judge Goethals as a DA candidate would help restore some sorely needed faith and confidence in the corrupted county justice system.

    Mainero would certainly be a welcomed alternative to Spitzer and Rackauckas (who I consider to be cut from the same mold, even though they fight when the cameras are rolling). Spitzer or Rackauckas would give us the very same outcomes. Would Mainero have what it takes to successfully run a DA’s office? I suppose so as long as he surrounded himself with good internal advisors who he could trust. But I don’t buy the story that Mainero is apolitical. He was Moorlach’s Chief of Staff. That’s political by definition. Btw, Moorlach was a big supporter of Stephen Connolly who ran the OIR throughout his stint as a supervisor. He always voted to keep Connolly on the payroll despite proven facts which indicated Connolly was not doing his job and acted as a lapdog for Hutchens – which eventually culminated in the illegal snitch scandal. Moorlach was a big Hutchen’s fan too. He helped hire her.

    As far as Dr. Comedy and her grand jury clown circus goes, it was a total farce. Another $400,000 down the rat hole. The GJ showed complete disregard for the 4th District Appellate Court’s conclusions BASED UPON THE HARD COLD EVIDENCE PRESENTED DURING JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS, multiple convicted violent inmates being granted new trials (at taxpayer expense), negotiating sweet plea deals or even being released from jail based on OCSD illegal informant use, former OCSD SHU supervisor Lt. Iron’s testifying that she had to run all jail informant operation matters up the chain of command to a captain who made the final decisions (like to WIRE informants to capture conversations with other inmates), the former OCSD jail commander testified that the use of jail informants were widepread, etc…. Those GJ omissions were all intentional. They had to be. They weren’t MISTAKES. They were intentional omissions.

    Sorry, Dr. Comedy. You claims were simply unbelievable. The EVIDENCE shows that the jail informant operations were SYSTEMIC and WIDESPREAD. You can’t just use a couple OCSD grunt corporals and privates as your fall guys here. That’s laughable on it’s face. An 11 year old kid could see through your flaky conclusions. You did a HUGE disservice to the ones you were appointed to serve.

    IMO Dr. Comedy and the OCGJ that compiled this 28 page joke of a report should be investigated by an agency outside the County of Orange.

    Now we have to count on the Feds to do their job. If they let us down we’ve lost our civilization. In such a case I would not blame the average citizen who would show complete contempt and disrespect for rule of law since “equality under the law” would be rendered a MYTH and those sworn personnel in positions of public trust would be proven to be exempt and immune to statutory law. That is not the definition of a “civilized society”. It promotes the law of the jungle.

    • Lyanna Lyns

      Mainero “handled” County employees for Moorlach by writing emails and dancing them around, to keep them from going to the police or public. In fact, in one email, he told an employee that chain of command was the only option, but that he would make sure Moorlach was aware of what was going on and get back to them. Yeah…that never happened. Mainero is also the guy who helped cost the county ten mill for the SSA social worker scandal, where kids were stolen from good parents because case worker egos were out of control. He probably won’t run that in his ads. Mainero couldn’t legal his way out of a wet paper bag with a hacksaw and a boxcutter. Next…

  • Sergio Garcia

    Has Mainero ever even tried a case? I get that folks are pissed at Rackauckas and his unethical and potentially illegal behavior… but a professor for DA? Following religious dogma is fine, but if it gets in the way of the job you’ve been elected to perform that is a problem. I’m sorry, but I think the worst mass murderer in Orange County history deserves the death penalty and I think most OC voters agree with me. We need an experienced prosecutor as DA, not an academic egghead.

    • LFOldTimer

      Don’t you folks understand that as much as you wish the death penalty on Dekraai – that he would die of natural causes on death row while he’d live a better quality life on death row than in the general population in the prison system?

      Since 1978 850 defendants have been sentenced to death in California. Of those 850 only 13 have actually been executed. The last execution happened in 2006 – TEN YEARS AGO!

      I’m in favor of the death penalty. But in California nobody is being executed. So why put somebody on death row when we’d have to spend millions to sustain him and he’d live a better quality of life on death row than in the general population? The system is actually doing a defendant a favor by putting him on death row.

      The DA knows this. But he goes for the death penalty anyway for self-aggrandizement and to look like a hero before the public.

      Please – read between the lines here.

      And quite frankly – I don’t care if Mainero has never prosecuted a single criminal case. If he could surround himself with trustworthy internal advisors I’d vote for him in a heartbeat over Spitzer or Rackauckas. More than anything – we need someone who operates off a moral compass to lead the DA’s office. Most of us are sick and tired of the corruption. I don’t even feel like I’m living in America anymore.

  • verifiedsane

    Apolitical….isn’t that what the DA is supposed to be…..I don’t know, or have I researched Mainero….but we definitely need a reasonable and measured choice besides those political egomaniacs Spitzer and Rackauckas…Rome is burning & under attack from within….voters need to step up with some serious involvement & time spent soul searching in front of the mirror, if we are going to attempt to save it…