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County Lawyer's Letter: Bustamante Investigation Was a Farce

A leaked internal report states the county failed in responding to sexual harassment complaints against the embattled former Orange County Public Works exec and Santa Ana councilman.

A letter from the county counsel to Orange County supervisors -- obtained and released today by a local news organization -- details concerns about how the initial investigation of sexual harassment complaints against former public works executive Carlos Bustamante were handled.

The Voice of OC obtained a letter and an internal report, dated March 2, from Nicholas Chrisos, the county counsel, to the supervisors and posted it on its website.

Howard Sutter, a spokesman for interim Orange County Chief Executive Officer Bob Franz, said he could not release a copy of the letter and could not comment on it.

Orange County Board Chairman John Moorlach was also reluctant to discuss it.

"That's a confidential document, so I had best not comment,'' Moorlach
said.

The letter includes an internal audit report from Peter Hughes, director of the county's Internal Audit Department, that spells out how county officials believe the initial investigation of allegations against Bustamante was botched.

Jess Carbajal, the county's then-Public Works director, received a letter making allegations against Bustamante, a Santa Ana city councilman, in March of last year.

Carbajal was fired in early July, the first casualty of the fallout surrounding the Bustamante case. Carbajal's attorney, Wylie Aitken, did not immediately respond to messages for comment today.

The anonymous writer claimed "the activities that Carlos Bustamante engages in are not only unprofessional but completely inappropriate. To date no one has done anything about him. He is rarely available and it is widely known that if you need him he is either with female employee one (door closed and locked), with female employee two (door closed and locked) which people seem to think is funny that she walks in with her purse and more makeup on when she leaves his office.''

The writer's allegations and the results of an internal investigation into the complaint were not shared with the county's Human Resources Department as required, according to the document from Chrisos.

Second and third letters with more allegations were received in August and October of last year by the Internal Audit Department, and that led to another investigation.

The letters, according to Hughes' memorandum, accused Bustamante and Carbajal of creating a hostile work environment of "sexual harassment, intimidation, retaliation and favoritism.''

Former county CEO Tom Mauk, who resigned after supervisors started reviewing how he handled the complaints, hired an outside law firm to investigate along with the Internal Audit Department last August.

The law firm's report, which was finished by Sept. 29, concluded the allegations against Carbajal could not be supported, but "found ample and credible witnesses to substantiate allegations against Mr. Bustamante of sexually aggressive verbal and physical harassment involving numerous female
county employees,'' according to Hughes' report.

Hughes' report prompted supervisors to ask Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to investigate, and he filed charges last month against Bustamante, who pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting seven women when he worked at the county.

The auditor faulted Carbajal for directing his Human Resources manager, Patricia Daniells, to investigate the initial complaints about Bustamante because he was her supervisor.

Moreover, records documenting interviews with employees were not kept and two employees Daniells said she interviewed denied they were approached, according to Hughes' report.

His report to Chrisos, says, "Even giving (Orange County Public Works) the benefit of doubt that an investigation did occur, it was superficial, undocumented, violated EEO policy and was in error regarding the conclusion that, 'Overall the allegations that Mr. Bustamante his (sic) conduct was inappropriate cannot be substantiated.'''

Hughes also wrote: "It's important to note that shortly after (the public works department) finished their investigation, the independent investigator hired by the CEO's office to investigate the August 15th letter of allegations of misconduct found overwhelming evidence of misconduct sufficient for the termination of Mr. Bustamante.''

When confronted with the allegations last October, Bustamante resigned, but publicly proclaimed his innocence. He remains on the Santa Ana City Council.

Hughes advised county officials to close a "gap'' in communication between department heads in such situations. He wants to make it mandatory for departments heads who encounter sexual harassment claims to pass the complaints along to the county counsel and the human resources department.

-- From City News Service

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