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Report says O.C. district attorney's investigator could not corroborate several claims against D.A.'s bitter rival

Report says O.C. district attorney's investigator could not corroborate several claims against D.A.'s bitter rival
An investigator with the Orange County district attorney's office was unable to confirm several allegations in a probe of Supervisor Todd Spitzer. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

An investigator with the Orange County district attorney's office was unable to confirm several allegations in a probe of county Supervisor Todd Spitzer, according to a report obtained by the Orange County Register.

The report, written by the lead investigator in the district attorney's investigation, said that many of the allegations could not be corroborated and that others — such as whether Spitzer spent campaign money for personal benefit — needed more investigation.

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The Orange County Register described the contents of the report less than a day after the Los Angeles Times reported on the existence of the investigation, which raised questions because Spitzer is a bitter political rival of Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

On Monday, Spitzer announced that he would challenge Rackauckas in 2018 for the seat of Orange County's top prosecutor.

On Thursday, Spitzer sent a letter to state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra requesting that his office "assume any pending investigation being conducted by Mr. Rackauckas' office."

"It is absolutely clear that Mr. Rackauckas has an intolerable and improper conflict of interest in conducting any investigation or criminal proceeding against me or any candidate for the very same office he is seeking re-election," Spitzer continued, adding that he was also sending a copy of the letter to the office of U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions.

In a phone interview with The Times, Spitzer said a senior assistant district attorney overseeing the county's investigation told him recently that he had closed it about a month ago.

"He said there was nothing there," Spitzer said he was told.

He said that some allegations came from three former and current employees; at least one has filed a lawsuit against Spitzer.

"This is truly, truly scary," Spitzer said. "There's nothing more outrageous and dangerous than a district attorney who investigates his enemies using the investigative powers of the government."

In a written statement to The Times, Michelle Van Der Linden, spokeswoman for Rackauckas, wrote that numerous allegations accusing Spitzer of political corruption had been made to the district attorney's office.

The district attorney "has an obligation to investigate all complaints and conducted an investigation into the allegations in partnership with the Fair Political Practices [Commission] and in consultation with the State Attorney General's Office," she wrote. "All the information gathered has been submitted to the appropriate enforcement agencies for their review, thus it would be inappropriate for the OCDA to speak about any individual allegations."

The state's Department of Justice declined to comment on the matter.

The status of the investigation is unclear, the Register reported. Spitzer told the Register that he had been informed by a "high-level prosecutor" that the probe ended 30 days ago and found nothing.

A source close to the district attorney's office told The Times that, as of Wednesday, the probe remained open.

Spitzer had been Rackauckas' handpicked successor and a protégé until Rackauckas fired him seven years ago, triggering a public feud that persists to this day. Spitzer's announcement that he would try to unseat Rackauckas next year had been long anticipated.

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In an interview with The Times, a legal ethics expert questioned whether the district attorney's office had an "impermissible" conflict of interest by conducting the probe and whether Rackauckas was benefiting by making possible donors to Spitzer's campaign fearful of contributing money.

The Register said the June 7 report was written by investigator Tom Conklin, who along with another investigator and the former chief of investigations have filed claims against Rackauckas alleging misconduct.

Investigators could not corroborate whether Spitzer engaged in "pay-to-play … to extort political contributions from developers," according to the Register's account of Conklin's memo.

A witness who worked for Spitzer and was quoted in Conklin's report alleged that Spitzer ordered him to change the bid rating for developers who did not donate to him, but later recanted his statements, the Register reported.

The probe also focused on claims by Christine Richters, a former law client, that she paid off legal bills owed to Spitzer using money she earned working for his campaign and later his supervisorial office, Richters and other sources familiar with the investigation told The Times.

Conklin's report said that allegations from Richters was unsubstantiated by bank records, according to the Register.

Spitzer said that he would be willing to address the allegations made by Richters as long as he gets an attorney-client privilege waiver from her allowing him to legally do so.

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

UPDATES:

1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

This article was originally published at 11:30 a.m.

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