Did Orange County District Attorney officials cover up evidence that DA Todd Spitzer solicited bribes and engaged in pay-to-play fundraising to get into office?
That’s the explosive allegation levied by former DA investigator Damon Tucker in a legal claim he filed this month after being fired by Spitzer’s administration late last year.
Spitzer, in turn, calls Tucker a “dirty cop,” saying his claim is part of a conspiracy by his predecessor, former DA Tony Rackauckas and his political handlers to tarnish Spitzer’s reputation.
There’s an 11-page report from the DA’s office that could shed light on the situation, according to Tucker’s legal claim. He alleged the report shows that obvious investigative leads – like gathering bank records – weren’t followed up on by the DA’s office.
So far, Spitzer and other officials aren’t releasing it.
Last week, Voice of OC asked for a copy of the 11-page memo, which was leaked to the OC Register in 2017.
In response, Spitzer said he was “indifferent” as to whether it’s released but that it would need to undergo a legal review because investigative reports are confidential.
“[A different DA investigator] was investigated for unlawfully releasing it Why? Because investigative reports are private,” Spitzer told Voice of OC via text message Wednesday.
“I’m happy to encourage you to file a [public records request] and let county counsel advise whether it’s public or not. This office cannot pursue discipline over leakers and then turn around and release investigations without an analysis,” he added.
“I’m indifferent but it’s not my call and it impacts precedent for future requests of confidential investigations….There needs to be a legal analysis done.”
Voice of OC followed up the same day with a Public Records Act request for it, which hasn’t yet yielded the document.
In his legal claim, Tucker is alleging a cover-up of evidence that Spitzer engaged in criminal conduct – including soliciting bribes and giving favorable treatment to defense attorneys who donated to his campaign.
Tucker, a 30-year law enforcement veteran who was fired as a DA investigator late last year, alleged he made a major discovery in 2018 when he was assigned to investigate the leak of an investigation report.
Tucker says he found “overwhelming evidence Spitzer had committed serious crimes” – including money laundering, terrorist threats, extortion, and solicitation of bribes by a public official.
Tucker says Spitzer was improperly cleared of wrongdoing in a 2017 investigation report that was leaked to the OC Register – after the DA investigator assigned to the case failed to follow up on obvious investigative leads like getting bank records.
And after taking office in early 2019, Tucker says Spitzer began “monetizing and corrupting the OCDA office in a ‘pay to play’ scheme” similar to what Spitzer was investigated for in 2017 when he was a county supervisor approving major contracts.
As an example, he alleges Spitzer’s administration tasked him with helping a campaign donor by illegally looking up police records about someone who was suing the donor.
Tucker claims he was fired this past December for refusing to “circumvent the law by reporting, investigating and preserving evidence of public corruption and criminal conduct of public officials to his supervisors.”
In response, Spitzer says Tucker has a blatant conflict of interest because of his close relationship with former DA Tony Rackauckas – whom Spitzer ran against and defeated in 2018 – and Rackauckas’ chief of staff and campaign manager, Susan Kang Schroeder.
“This is nothing more despicable than an unethical cop misusing taxpayer resources to try to dig up dirt for his friends on a political enemy,” Spitzer said in a statement about Tucker’s claim.
Tucker’s close relationship with Schroeder, Spitzer noted, included a Facebook post in which Tucker talked about a private jet trip to Las Vegas with Schroeder and others that involved “clothing optional pools.”
“This investigator no longer works for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office because he misused his authority as a sworn police officer to unilaterally open a closed investigation without the approval or knowledge of a supervisor,” Spitzer added.
As for the corruption investigation, Spitzer says it was purely an unethical effort by Rackauckas to go after him ahead of the 2018 election.
“This was a blatant conflict of interest and an absolute misuse of government resources for political gain,” Spitzer said.
“The district attorney investigator assigned to investigate me completely exonerated me from any wrongdoing.”
Tucker’s attorney said Spitzer didn’t actually dispute the allegations in his lengthy statement.
“Mr. Spitzer’s continued character assassination against Mr. Tucker is not only unfounded and unmerited but significantly, the fact that Mr. Spitzer fails to refute the very allegations made against him speaks volumes,” said attorney Neda Roshanian in a statement to Voice of OC.
Voice of OC reached out to Spitzer for his response to Tucker’s attorney saying he hadn’t actually refuted the allegations. The DA then disputed the allegations.
“None [of Tucker’s claims] are true and all were already found to be untrue by the [California Fair Political Practices Commission] and Investigator [Tom] Conklin,” Spitzer said.
“Tucker was a dirty cop. Thank goodness he will never wear the badge ever again,” he added.
“We look forward to [Tucker’s attorneys] arguing that he could investigate his buddy’s opponent in an election, during the election, when the [state Attorney General’s Office] specifically conflicted the OCDA off the case for exactly that reason.”
Spitzer declined to release the report that allegedly exonerated him, saying investigation reports are confidential and legal analysis would be needed to decide whether they can be released. Voice of OC followed up with a Public Records Act request for the document.
The internal DA report, which the Register wrote about in July 2017, apparently cleared Spitzer of public corruption and campaign finance violations.
But there was a big problem, according to Tucker.
The report showed the investigation failed to gather obvious evidence of potential crimes – and improperly cleared Spitzer, Tucker says in his claim.
“After extensive review of all the reports and documents, as well as listening to all the audio recordings of interviews,” Tucker says he discovered that the 11-page investigation report “was inaccurate and misleading when it concluded Spitzer had done nothing wrong and was exonerated of misconduct.”
“It appeared [the investigator] failed to investigate or follow up on multiple logical investigative leads,” the claim adds.
Among those leads were complaints by Christine Richters, who worked for Spitzer when he was a county supervisor – before the two had a public falling out when he fired her.
Richters filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging Spitzer ran his office through “fear and aggression,” forced his staff to be on-call at all hours of the night, and required them to work shifts of up to 24 hours at a time.
DA investigators “missed a logical lead where bank records existed that potentially bore evidence involving Spitzer laundering money,” Tucker wrote in his claim, saying he reached that conclusion from reviewing the investigation files.
Tucker says he then briefed multiple high-level DA supervisors on his findings, including that the investigation files “revealed significant misrepresentation, corruption, suspected criminal conduct and fraud” by Spitzer and the investigator.
But after winning the Nov. 2018 DA election, Spitzer then worked to “bury” investigations into himself and the leak of the report that improperly cleared him, Tucker says in his claim.
Several officials “indicated the 11-page report leak may have been orchestrated [by the suspected leaker] in order to help Spitzer get elected and covered up by Spitzer’s team after he had been elected,” the claim states.
The DA investigator suspected of leaking the report was under internal investigation under Rackauckas, but after the election Spitzer’s administration let him retire without any findings of misconduct, according to Tucker’s claim.
By never finishing the leak investigation, the claim states, the files were then not subject to a new police transparency law – known as SB 1421 – that required public disclosure of investigation records when a law enforcement officer is found to have been dishonest.
Tucker says his leak investigation was focused on dishonesty – and if it had been sustained, “then the details of Spitzer’s suspected criminal conduct would be available to the public.”
The investigator assigned to investigate the suspected leaker told Tucker he had found at least 32 policy violations but faced pushback from a Spitzer appointee, according to the claim.
A few weeks after Spitzer took office, Tucker claims he was improperly ordered to help a major donor who had given $6,000 to Spitzer’s election campaigns – by illegally and unethically accessing police records about a person who was suing the donor.
It wasn’t the only pattern of helping political donors, according to Tucker.
“Several defense attorneys who donated to Spitzer political campaigns appeared to be receiving preferential treatment in the disposition of their cases once Spitzer came into office,” the claim states.
Spitzer “was monetizing and corrupting the OCDA office in a ‘pay to play’ scheme” like what Spitzer himself was investigated for in 2017, the claim states.
Tucker says he was placed under internal investigation in June 2020 for seeking to preserve evidence against Spitzer by calling the Orange Police Department about a complaint Richters had called in about Spitzer.
Then, in December, Tucker was officially fired, according to his claim.
“There is no question [Tucker] was retaliated against and ultimately discharged for reporting and disclosing violations of law, corruption, and abuse of authority of public officials, including Todd Spitzer, to his superiors,” according to Tucker’s claim.
Under state law, Tucker can file a lawsuit against Spitzer and the county if his claim is not settled within the next few weeks.
Spitzer says it’s all a smear campaign to come after him, by a close ally of the former DA administration.
“The motivation for all this behavior is clear as is the pervasive attitude among the prior administration to misuse the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for personal benefit,” Spitzer said in his statement.
“I will not tolerate anyone using taxpayer resources to carry out their own personal agendas under the color of authority. It is unacceptable and the taxpayers of Orange County deserve far better. We will fight this case all the way to trial if I have my say with County Risk Management,” he added.
“This is exactly the behavior I pledged to clean up in the District Attorney’s Office – and I am doing just that.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.