Santa Ana councilman faces sex assault charges

A Santa Ana city councilman abused his power as a high-ranking county official by targeting and luring at least seven female employees to his office and other locations to hug, kiss and touch them inappropriately over a period of eight years, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Carlos Bustamante, a former administration manager at the Orange County public works department, has been charged with a dozen felonies, including attempted sexual battery, stalking, fraud and six counts of false imprisonment.

“Each of the victims was afraid that, if they reported the sexual assault, they would be committing career suicide,” said Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

Prosecutors say that Bustamante, 47, who was arrested Monday, targeted women of similar ages and backgrounds and would “groom” them by making sexual comments and advances.

During business hours, he would call or e-mail the women — all county employees who were his subordinates — and ask to speak with them in his office. He allegedly cornered them, hugged and kissed them on the mouth and neck, and then proceeded to touch them inappropriately. Sometimes, he exposed himself and masturbated during the encounters, which also occurred in parking lots, elevators and cars, Rackauckas said.

Bustamante could not be reached for comment.

“Many of his victims believed that Bustamante’s office was sound-proofed and that if they screamed, nobody would hear them anyway,” Rackauckas said.

The accusers pointed to Bustamante’s connections within the county and city. One said he seemed “untouchable,” Rackauckas said. He allegedly stalked one woman after she attempted to distance herself from him.

Though Bustamante was charged in the sexual assaults of seven women dating back to 2003, Rackauckas said there were at least 12 other accusers. Bustamante will not be charged in those cases because of the statute of limitations, but they will be used as evidence at trial, prosecutors said.

Bustamante, a Santa Ana native who was elected to the City Council in 2004, was seen by insiders as a fresh Republican face who could appeal to the burgeoning Latino population in the county. In 2008, he resigned from two state commission appointments after he joked to a Los Angeles Times reporter about breast implants. He denied making the comment.

The current charges were sparked by an anonymous letter sent to the Board of Supervisors last fall detailing impropriety in the public works department. An internal auditor began an investigation along with a separate inquiry by counsel hired by the county.

In October, Bustamante resigned from his county post amid the allegations. In March, his supervisor, Jess Carbajal, was placed on paid administrative leave. That same month, the Board of Supervisors asked prosecutors to investigate, said Supervisor John Moorlach.

“It would have been nice if the district attorney said it was all a hoax,” Moorlach said. “It turned out that the investigation by the district attorney’s office confirmed our worst fears.”

Supervisor Shawn Nelson said he hoped further investigation would reveal if anyone else at the executive level knew about the allegations.

“The conduct that was occurring on the job was over-the-top outrageous,” Nelson said.

More than 50 witnesses were interviewed during the investigation, but many were afraid to get involved, Rackauckas said. He said he believes the investigation has just “scratched the surface.”

“We want to know how this wolf was kept in charge of his prey for so long,” Rackauckas said. “How he was able to get away with a perverse abuse of power and position for the last eight years.”

Though the charged offenses appear to be limited to Bustamante’s work with the county, investigators are interested in speaking with any others who came into contact with him through his work.

Bustamante also faces a felony count of grand theft by false pretense for allegedly receiving a $3,100 county reimbursement for attending a professional program. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 26 years in prison.

Bustamante, who is married with three children, is free on $100,000 bail. He is due in court Thursday.