Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas had groomed his senior prosecutor Todd Spitzer as his successor — after which he fired him.
The termination seven years in the past set off a bitter political rivalry that’s anticipated to culminate in 2018 when the 2 face off in an election for Orange County’s prime prosecutor.
However their campaigns are more likely to be difficult by one reality: Spitzer has been the topic of an investigation by Rackauckas’ workplace and state authorities, based on 4 sources accustomed to the probe.
The Orange County district lawyer’s workplace and the Truthful Political Practices Fee have been taking a look at how Spitzer raised marketing campaign cash.
Additionally they are analyzing the supervisor’s hiring of a former authorized shopper who stated she paid off a authorized debt to Spitzer by working for his marketing campaign and in his supervisorial workplace, the sources stated. Nobody has been charged or accused of wrongdoing.
‘Two youngsters … hitting one another’
“It’s simply going to be seen down right here as political rivalry,” stated Shirley Grindle, the county’s longtime marketing campaign finance watchdog and a vocal critic of Rackauckas. “The 2 youngsters on the block hitting one another.”
Final yr, Rackauckas accused Spitzer of “falsely impersonating” a prosecutor in robo-calls selling a poll measure. And in Might, Spitzer despatched a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Periods calling for a federal takeover of the district lawyer’s workplace and accusing Rackauckas of misconduct, together with interfering in political corruption investigations.
Rackauckas’ workplace didn’t return telephone requires remark. Spitzer declined to remark in a message despatched to a reporter by an advisor.
Grindle and others stated that this investigation is uncommon as a result of Rackauckas’ workplace has prosecuted so few political figures. Against this, Rackauckas’ predecessor, Michael Capizzi, had a fame for his aggressive pursuit of political corruption courting again to the Nineteen Seventies, when as a prosecutor within the workplace, he introduced expenses towards dozens of elected officers, together with two county supervisors and a former congressman.
“If something, Tony has been very laissez-faire about investigating elected officers,” stated state Sen. John Moorlach, a former elected county treasurer and ex-county supervisor. “He’s the anti-Mike Capizzi.”
In Might, Rackauckas’ former chief of investigations, Craig Hunter, filed a declare towards the workplace alleging that Rackauckas “interfered in political corruption legal investigations within the County of Orange, involving candidates that he endorsed politically.” The district lawyer’s workplace has denied the allegations and referred to as them an try by a former official “to get cash from Orange County taxpayers,” based on reviews in Voice of OC and the Orange County Register.
District lawyer probing monetary questions
The Occasions spoke to 3 witnesses who stated that they had been contacted by investigators as a part of the probe: Spitzer’s former chief of employees George Cardenas, ex-marketing campaign staffer and former chief of employees Mike Johnson, and a lady who labored for each the marketing campaign and Spitzer’s supervisorial workplace, Christine Richters.
Additionally, sources acquainted with the investigation who spoke on situation of anonymity described the outlines of the investigation to The Occasions.
The investigation focuses particularly on whether or not Spitzer improperly spent marketing campaign funds for private profit at locations reminiscent of Costco, sources informed The Occasions.
Investigators are additionally wanting into whether or not Spitzer violated any legal guidelines when he employed a former authorized shopper, Richters, to his marketing campaign and later his supervisorial workplace, in accordance with Richters and different sources.
In an interview with The Occasions, Richters stated she advised investigators she owed cash to Spitzer to cowl authorized payments she racked up when Spitzer represented her as a personal lawyer. She stated she didn’t have the means to pay him. So, she informed investigators, they agreed on a deal through which she would work for his 2012 supervisorial marketing campaign — and later his supervisorial workplace — then pay him again with cash she earned.
Richters stated she advised prosecutors she deposited paychecks from the marketing campaign fund and public cash from the supervisor’s workplace and gave the money again to Spitzer. She met Spitzer on the county parking zone and her house to offer him the money, which she informed investigators totaled about $7,000.
A second supply informed The Occasions that that is roughly the account Richters gave to investigators.
Johnson, one other former marketing campaign staffer and ex-chief of employees, advised The Occasions that he drove Richters house often and, on a type of events, he gave a verify to Richters; she then advised him that she was giving the cash proper again to Spitzer, Johnson stated.
Richters is now suing Spitzer for wrongful termination and alleges in her lawsuit that he had a “raging mood.” The go well with doesn’t point out paying Spitzer cash she made whereas working for him.
Can a district lawyer examine a rival?
Bruce Inexperienced, director of the Louis Stein Middle for Regulation and Ethics at Fordham College, stated the Spitzer investigation might current hurdles ought to the district lawyer’s workplace try and prosecute.
“The opposing candidate, if he ever have been indicted, would have a reasonably good argument that the prosecutor’s workplace has an impermissible battle of curiosity,” Inexperienced stated. “The prosecutor must be involved and the general public ought to be involved.”
The investigation might additionally not directly give Rackauckas a marketing campaign benefit towards Spitzer.
“It does create a danger that people who find themselves potential donors will understand they’re in jeopardy in the event that they contribute to the opponent beneath investigation,” Inexperienced stated.
Rackauckas has himself been within the political scorching seat just lately, together with a scandal over his workplace’s use of jailhouse snitches in legal instances. The state lawyer common’s workplace and federal Division of Justice are nonetheless investigating the matter.
The Truthful Political Practices Fee — which partnered with Rackauckas within the Spitzer probe — can also be investigating whether or not Rackauckas violated state regulation by failing to report donations he requested be made to a nonprofit, and by approving public funds to advertise his chief of employees’s associate in a music advertising enterprise.
Rackauckas can also be contending with two claims filed by his personal investigators, together with Tom Conklin — who sources say is the lead investigator within the Spitzer case — alleging that Rackauckas and his circle of prime prosecutors engaged in misconduct and coverups.
One case concerned a former Cypress Police Division investigator accused of committing perjury throughout a capital homicide trial. One other revolved across the alleged coverup by Fullerton police of a former metropolis supervisor’s drunk driving. Conklin and the opposite investigator stated of their declare that they have been retaliated towards for testifying earlier than the grand jury concerning the district lawyer’s workplace.
Spitzer, a two-time county supervisor and former state assemblyman, might be probably the most formidable opponent Rackauckas has confronted. He’s an aggressive marketing campaign fundraiser and he has seized on the scandals dogging Rackauckas by presenting himself as a crusader towards abuses of energy by the district lawyer’s workplace.
Actual scandal or desperation?
A spokeswoman for Rackauckas slammed Spitzer’s name for the federal authorities to take over the district lawyer’s workplace as a shameless ploy.
On Monday, after saying he would problem Rackauckas subsequent yr, Spitzer shortly went after the highest prosecutor.
“I refuse to face by as Tony Rackauckas destroys the district lawyer’s workplace and makes use of it as his personal private fiefdom for he and his cronies whereas the general public’s security suffers,” Spitzer stated in a information launch.
A marketing campaign advisor for Rackauckas responded: “Orange County District Lawyer Tony Rackauckas is proud to run on his document of preserving native residents protected and pleased with the truth that he’s supported by the county’s regulation enforcement and crime sufferer leaders in addition to the main elected officers who know each candidates.”