A group of county workers is urging the state attorney general to investigate why it took so long to arrest a Santa Ana city councilman for allegedly assaulting seven women who worked for him in the county public works department.
The sex assault scandal, which has led to the firing of the county’s public works director and the resignation of the county CEO, now casts a shadow over the Orange County Board of Supervisors and district attorney’s office, according to a spokeswoman for Orange County Employees Association.
“Who knew what when, and who is complicit in making sure this was swept under the rug for so long?” asked Jennifer Muir of the Orange County Employees Association. “Why did it take so long? Who might be criminally liable for obstructing justice?”
Anonymous letters from county employees alleging sexual abuse by Santa Ana City Councilman and county Public Works Department Executive Carlos Bustamante first surfaced in March 2011, more than a year before he was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting seven county employees. He has since pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Those employees deserve to know that the investigation is being handled by a district attorney who is independent of the politics and “corruption” that allowed this to go on for so long, Muir said.
``They suffer silently,'' Muir said of the women on the county payroll.
Kim Salter of the state branch of the National Organization for Women joined the Orange County Employees Association on Tuesday in criticizing county officials for not doing more to reassure county workers they are safe from sexual harassment. They called on state Attorney General Kamala Harris to intervene.
The county's top prosecutor, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, said he would not have a problem if Harris wanted to review the investigation of Bustamante.
``But I would be shocked if she wanted to get involved. She's got so much to do,'' Rackauckas said.
Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell praised the way Rackauckas has handled the case and deflected criticism, questioning why it took so long for the alleged victims to come forward.
Rackauckas has said many of the alleged victims feared Bustamante, at the time a rising political star who bragged about his political connections. The prosecutor said the women felt it would be ``career suicide'' to accuse Bustamante of sexual misconduct.
Bustamante is accused of sexually assaulting women he worked with while he was an executive with the public works department. The alleged assaults happened between 2003 and last year, according to prosecutors. Bustamante, who was arrested about a month ago while on his way to a Santa Ana City Council meeting, resigned from his job as a county executive in the public works department last October when he was confronted with the sexual harassment allegations.
NOW's Salter noted that was 16 months after the first anonymous letter alleging misconduct.
``Why would (more victims) step forward when nothing happened?" she said. "We need a thorough investigation by an outside entity who has nothing to do with Orange County.''
Amid criticsim of their handling of the allegations, Orange County Chief Executive Officer Tom Mauk resigned and public works chief Jess Carbajal was fired last month, after being on paid administrative leave since March 19.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Harris' office, the OCEA and California NOW alleged that the Orange County District Attorney’s office is too intertwined with county politics to investigate the case objectively. They cited a letter from a county whistleblower who alleges that Rackauckas has personal and political motivations for prosecuting the case.
Rackauckas dismissed the accusations of a conflict of interest, saying: ``Sometimes, allegations have a kernel of truth. This doesn't even have that.''
Campbell, the Orange County supervisor, agreed.
``I think they've handled it in a very professional fashion,'' Campbell said. ``I think Tony's doing a good job of it.''
If Harris wanted to get involved, Campbell said he would not object.
Shum Preston, a spokesman for Harris, said, ``We will review that letter when we receive it, but I cannot say more than that at this point.''
As for the women's complaints that county officials have not taken a strong enough public stance against sexual harassment in the workplace, Campbell said officials are reviewing their sexual harassment training to see if it can be improved.
Bustamante has so far resisted calls to step down from the Santa Ana City Council.
Muir said it was ``sick'' that Bustamante remains on the council.
``What kind of message does that send to women,'' Muir said.
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- City News Service contributed to this report.