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Santa Ana councilman pleads not guilty to sexual assault charges

July 26, 2012 |  9:51 am

Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante pleaded not guilty Thursday to a dozen felony charges, most stemming from allegations that he sexually assaulted subordinates when he worked in the Orange County Public Works department.

Bustamante appeared before Orange County Superior Court Judge Gerald Johnston to hear the charges -- six felony counts of false imprisonment, three felony counts of assault with intent to commit a sexual offense, and single counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and grand theft for misusing public funds. He also faces misdemeanor charges of sexual battery, assault and battery.

Bustamante is accused of sexually assaulting at least seven women, all subordinates, during eight years as an executive in the department. Prosecutors say Bustamante would lure the women into his office, corner them, and kiss or touch them. He told them his office was soundproof, and would sometimes pin them against the wall and masturbate in front of them, prosecutors say.

Bustamante, a Santa Ana councilman since 2004, has maintained his innocence since resigning from the public works post last fall.

The charges have raised serious questions about the county government's internal investigations -- one of which was assigned to a subordinate staff member, and another that was quietly filed away. These were turned over to prosecutors in March, a full year after the first allegations about Bustamante's behavior surfaced.

So far, the county's director of public works has been fired, and a deputy chief executive officer who oversaw the department has taken an abrupt medical leave. The county Board of Supervisors could decide Thursday whether to remove the county's CEO, Thomas Mauk.

A request by Bustamante's lawyer to dismiss the case because of "derogatory and inflammatory statements" made by prosecutors to the media will be heard during a hearing on Aug. 30.

If convicted with sentencing enhancements, Bustamante could face more than 26 years in prison.

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-- Christine Mai-Duc in Santa Ana

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