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O.C. officials botched Bustamante harassment probe, audit shows

Orange County officials botched the sexual harassment investigation of former executive Carlos Bustamante so badly that the probe itself put the county at risk of being sued, internal audit shows.

August 14, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Carlos Bustamante, a former executive in Orange County’s public works department, is accused of sexual assault, false imprisonment and battery of seven female county employees over an eight-year span.
Carlos Bustamante, a former executive in Orange County’s public… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)

Orange County officials botched the sexual harassment investigation of former executive Carlos Bustamante so badly that the probe itself violated workplace policy and put the county at risk of being sued, an internal audit shows.

Bustamante, a former executive in the county's public works department who was arrested in July, is accused of sexual assault, false imprisonment and battery of seven female county employees over an eight-year span.

The audit, prepared in February, notes that there were multiple complaints against Bustamante and outlines concerns about how the inquiries were handled before the case made its way to the district attorney — a full year after the county was alerted to the potential problems.

Complaints about Bustamante's behavior surfaced as early as March 2011, according to the confidential internal report, a copy of which was obtained by the online publication Voice of OC. A county spokesman would not comment on the report.

The first complaint, the audit notes, was never referred to the county's central human resources department and instead was investigated by Patricia Daniells, one of Bustamante's subordinates.

Daniells, the audit notes, did not keep specific records of the interviews and produced a one-page "unaddressed, undated, unsigned and non-letterhead" report.

The audit says assigning the task to Daniells was a conflict of interest since Bustamante was her immediate supervisor. Daniells, who has since retired from her county post, could not be reached for comment.

Further, the audit says, two employees whom Daniells said she interviewed later denied they'd ever talked with her. Daniells' inquiry was described in the audit as being "superficial."

The half-page complaint about Bustamante alleged that "it is widely known that if you need him he is either with female employee one (doors 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 than when she leaves his office."

In August, another complaint about Bustamante alleged a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, intimidation, retaliation and favoritism. An investigation into the complaint was farmed out to a law firm, which found "ample and credible witnesses" to validate the allegations, the audit notes.

The month-long investigation resulted in a written report that led to Bustamante's resignation in October, the same month a third letter was sent to the internal audit department.

Potential witnesses approached by the law firm's investigators "expressed fear of retaliation, especially from human resources, for testifying about Mr. Bustamante's misconduct."

The audit also references a lack of coordination between county counsel, the internal audit department and human resources. The county's lawyers, for instance, were never informed that an outside law firm had been asked to investigate the complaints.

Since Bustamante's arrest, his supervisor, Jess Carbajal, has been terminated and county Chief Executive Tom Mauk has resigned. Carl Crown, who was the human resources director during the time of the complaints, has retired.

Supervisor John Moorlach said that Bustamante was an "isolated, professional predator," and that an error in judgment was made by Carbajal, the former head of the public works department.

"I think the number of personnel changes should be a rather strong statement that we're trying to resolve this type of incident from occurring in the future," he said.

Wylie Aitken, Carbajal's attorney, said his client was simply following orders and "acted appropriately."

Bustamante, who is free on bail, remains on the Santa Ana City Council.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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