A veteran Orange County district attorney’s investigator who was fired after he refused to drop his probe into one of the district attorney’s close friends and political contributors has, for a second time, won back his job and will probably get more than $1 million in back pay.
Lyle Wilson was fired in 2002 for his handling of an investigation into the business dealings of Patrick Di Carlo, a wealthy Newport Beach businessman and supporter of Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.
The firing brought criticism of Rackauckas early in his career as county prosecutor and led an Orange County grand jury to accuse the district attorney of interfering in criminal investigations involving political contributors.
In an opinion filed Wednesday, Justice Eileen C. Moore of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana wrote that the case “arises against a backdrop of political intrigue and purported coverups.”
The controversy started in 2000 after Di Carlo asked Rackauckas to investigate what he considered a threatening phone message from a person he thought had connections to a New York City mob family. The district attorney agreed to pursue the investigation, and Wilson was assigned to the case.
But during an interview, Wilson began to suspect that Di Carlo might himself be guilty of wrongdoing, and the investigator and his supervisor shifted their investigation to Di Carlo for alleged violations of federal and state securities laws.
Di Carlo could not be reached for comment, but in the past he has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Rackauckas pulled Wilson and his supervisor off the case, suspended them and accused them of stealing evidence. He also accused Wilson of investigating Di Carlo even after he was ordered off the case, and of talking about the case with the media.
After about two years’ paid suspension, Wilson was fired for insubordination, untruthfulness and violating the district attorney’s media policy.
In 2008, a ruling in Los Angeles County Superior Court found that the district attorney erred in firing Wilson for insubordination and ordered the firing vacated.
But rather than reinstating Wilson, Orange County officials told him that the reason for his termination had been changed.
The move was an attempt to “game the system by backdating an amended discharge order and hoping it would fly,” Moore wrote in the opinion.
“It was a no-brainer,” Corey Glave, Wilson’s attorney, said of the appeal. “The county tried to play a game to do an end-run around the court’s judgment without appealing it, and it backfired.”
The district attorney’s office received the opinion Thursday and is “exploring all legal options to decide what our next step is,” spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder said.