Bustamante sexual harassment probe badly botched, audit says
Orange County officials botched the sexual harassment investigation of former executive Carlos Bustamante so badly that the probe itself violated workplace policy and put the county at risk of being sued, an internal audit shows.
Bustamante, a former executive in the county’s public works department who was arrested in July, is accused of sexual assault, false imprisonment and battery of seven female county employees over eight years.
The internal audit, prepared in February, notes that there were multiple complaints lodged against Bustamante and outlines concerns about how the inquiries were handled before the case made its way to the district attorney -- a full year after the county was alerted to potential problems.
Complaints about Bustamante’s behavior surfaced as early as March 2011, according to the internal report, which was first reported by the online publication Voice of OC.
The first complaint, the audit notes, was never referred to the county’s central human resources department, a violation of county policy.
Instead, the complaint was investigated by Patricia Daniells, one of Bustamante’s subordinates.
Daniells, the audit notes, did not keep specific records of the interviews and instead produced a one-page “unaddressed, undated, unsigned and non-letterhead” report.
Further, two employees who Daniells said she interviewed later denied they’d ever talked with her. Daniells’ inquiry was described in the audit as being “superficial.”
In August, another complaint about Bustamante surfaced and an investigation was farmed out to a law firm, which found “ample and credible witnesses” to validate the allegations against Bustamante, the audit notes.
Potential witnesses approached by the law firm’s investigators “expressed fear of retaliation, especially from Human Resources, for testifying about Mr. Bustamante’s misconduct.”
“These fears were pervasive and two potential witnesses refused to interview in the presence of HR employees,” the audit notes.
The audit also references a lack of coordination between county counsel, the internal audit department and human resources. County counsel, for instance, was never informed that an outside law firm had been asked to investigate the complaints and was unaware that the county later met with Bustamante.
Since Bustamante’s arrest, his supervisor, Jess Carbajal, has been terminated and county Chief Executive Tom Mauk has resigned. Carl Crown, who was the human resources director during the time of the complaints, has retired.
Bustamante, who is free on bail, remains on the Santa Ana City Council.
-- Nicole Santa Cruz
Photo: Carlos Bustamante in court. Credit: Los Angeles Times