O.C. investigator on leave for allegedly leaking report about top prosecutor’s rival, attorney says

An investigator with the Orange County district attorney’s office was put on paid administrative leave Thursday for allegedly leaking an investigative report, according to his attorney Joel Baruch.

The report by investigator Tom Conklin said that despite months of investigation, several allegations against County Supervisor Todd Spitzer – a bitter rival of Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and a candidate to unseat him in the 2018 race – could not be corroborated.

Baruch denied that either he or Conklin shared the report with the Orange County Register. Baruch said he believed the district attorney’s office leaked the report, and then blamed Conklin as an excuse to oust him.

“I think there’s a good chance [the district attorney’s office] gave the report to the Register,” Baruch said. “They set him up.”

Before he wrote his report on Spitzer, Conklin and another investigator had filed whistleblower claims against Rackauckas’ office alleging that Rackauckas and his circle of top prosecutors engaged in cover-ups and misconduct. Their claims followed another claim against the office filed by former chief of investigations Craig Hunter, who alleged that Rackauckas regularly interfered in political corruption investigations involving allies.

On Friday, the district attorney’s office released a statement — referring to the leaking of reports — saying that the office has not yet taken any disciplinary action against Conklin.

“The OCDA is reluctant to place anyone on a paid administrative leave; careful consideration was given to a full review of the facts and in consultation with County Counsel,” the statement said. “Obviously, police reports should not be leaked to any unauthorized persons or organizations.”

The announcement from Conklin’s attorney is yet another twist in a week heavy with political intrigue surrounding the district attorney’s office.

It began Wednesday when the existence of the Spitzer investigation was reported by the Los Angeles Times. Later in the day, the Register published a story saying it had obtained a copy of Conklin’s report and detailed its findings. Spitzer then wrote a letter to the state attorney general’s office asking the state agency to take over the district attorney’s investigation.

Conklin was placed on leave the day after those stories broke, Baruch said.

Meanwhile, the status of the investigation remains unclear. The district attorney’s office said in a statement that it had submitted the information gathered to the “appropriate enforcement agencies for review.” Spitzer said he was informed by a top prosecutor that it wrapped up 30 days ago. A source close to the district attorney’s office told the Los Angeles Times that, as of Wednesday, the probe remained open.

Baruch said it was his understanding that the investigation was reopened after Conklin filed his report in early June.

“They had reopened the investigation because Tony wants to embarrass Spitzer. He’s a political opponent,” Baruch said.

Baruch provided other details about how the investigation was handled that he said raise questions. He said three of the witnesses fed to Conklin by the office had conflicts of interest — including financial ties to Rackauckas.

Rackauckas and Spitzer have for years been locked in an ugly political feud. It kicked off in 2010 when Rackauckas fired Spitzer, who had been his hand-picked successor and a senior prosecutor in the office.

An ethics expert quoted by The Times questioned whether Rackauckas had an “impermissible” conflict of interest in prosecuting Spitzer. He also said an investigation could benefit Rackauckas’ bid for reelection by scaring off potential campaign donors to Spitzer.

The investigation focuses on whether Spitzer improperly raised and spent campaign money. There wasn’t enough evidence to confirm several allegations, while others – such as whether Spitzer spent campaign funds for personal benefit – needed more investigation, according to the Register’s account of Conklin’s report.

Spitzer’s chief strategist, John Thomas, accused the district attorney of retaliating against Conklin.

“It's clear that Tony Rackauckas is livid that his witch hunt into Todd Spitzer backfired and came up empty-handed,” Thomas said.

Adam.Elmahrek@latimes.com

@adamelmahrek

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