SANTA ANA (CNS) - A fired Orange County District Attorney's Office investigator has filed a claim with the county, alleging District Attorney Todd Spitzer retaliated against him because of a probe that he said showed the county's top prosecutor was involved in “money laundering, terrorist threats, extortion and solicitation of bribes.''
Damon Tucker filed the claim Monday against the county, Spitzer and Paul Walters, the chief of investigators for the District Attorney's Office.
Tucker worked for the District Attorney's Office from 2003 until last December. Before that, he was an Irvine police officer from 1996 through 2003, and a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District police force from 1994 through 1996. He also has experience working as a federal police officer for the U.S. Department of Defense and Treasury Department during his nearly 30-year law enforcement career.
Tucker alleges his “refusal to circumvent the law by reporting, investigating and preserving evidence of public corruption and criminal conduct of public officials to his supervisors ultimately led to his termination.''
Spitzer issued a statement saying Tucker was fired because he “misused his authority as a sworn police officer to unilaterally open a closed investigation without the approval or knowledge of a supervisor.''
Spitzer added, “A badge is not a free pass to engage in politically motivated behavior to exact revenge.''
According to the claim filed by Tucker's attorneys, the problems started in October 2016 when another investigator with the office, Thomas Conklin, was assigned to investigate Spitzer when he was on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Conklin became embroiled in his own disputes with the District Attorney's Office when Tony Rackauckas was the top prosecutor, but that claim was eventually settled, his attorney Joel Baruch said, adding he could not provide any more details.
Conklin was ordered to work with the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate Spitzer regarding allegations of campaign finance violations. Tucker accused Conklin of leaking an 11-page investigative summary of the campaign finance allegations to the Orange County Register, which reported on it in July 2017.
That led to Conklin being placed on administrative leave, and in July 2018, Tucker was assigned to investigate Conklin, he said.
Tucker said he ultimately concluded that Conklin's 11-page report on Spitzer was “inaccurate and misleading when it concluded Spitzer had done nothing wrong and was exonerated of misconduct.''
Tucker said he believed that Conklin “failed to investigate or follow up on multiple logical investigative leads,'' including complaints by Christine Richters, a former Playboy model and Spitzer aide who sued him and settled for $150,000 in a dispute over wages and overtime pay that included allegations of harassment and retaliation.
Tucker said in August 2018, he attempted to alert the FPPC about evidence of alleged money laundering, but was told the FPPC had closed its case and that he had assumed Conklin had obtained bank records. The following month, Tucker said he alerted various supervisors, including Walters, Senior Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, retired Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Lubinski, Assistant Chief Ron Seman, human resources staff and D.A. investigator Kevin Adley regarding his allegations.
Tucker said he met with Walters on Sept. 20, 2018, to brief him on his misgivings about Conklin's report and to allege there was “overwhelming evidence Spitzer had committed serious crimes, including money laundering, terrorist threats, extortion and solicitation of bribes by a public official,'' according to the claim.
Tucker was set to meet with Conklin in October 2018, but Conklin rescheduled for a date after the election in November 2018 in which Spitzer defeated Rackauckas.
Tucker alleges that Spitzer “colluded with Walters to ‘bury' any investigations about him and/or Conklin to avoid any embarrassment or criminal implications.''
Tucker said a day after the Nov. 6 election, Walters told Tucker to “redact his questionnaire (for Conklin) and to remove any questions bearing Spitzer's name relating to political corruption and suspected criminal conduct.'' He added that Walters “revealed to (Tucker) during this meeting that Spitzer had already reached out to him and requested Walters stay on as chief of the bureau of investigation.''
On Nov. 8, 2018, Walters met with Tucker and allegedly told him that his case could “hurt Conklin's civil case against the county of Orange, that the investigation would become a public record, and Spitzer would suffer humiliation when he took office.''
Tucker said he was ethically bound to continue the query with the state Attorney General, the FBI, the State Bar and an Orange County grand jury.
Walters and Seman met with Tucker on Nov. 9, 2018, and told him the investigation was being reassigned to someone else in the office to “protect'' Tucker, according to the claim.
The new investigator, John Follo, said the case would be forwarded onto the “appropriate law enforcement agency for review,'' Tucker said.
Tucker said he learned in the spring of 2019 that the investigation of Conklin was not completed and that Conklin retired. Follo was later promoted and was Tucker's supervisor in January of last year, he said.
Tucker claims that in February of last year, Follo said that though his investigation of Conklin found 32 to 36 “policy violations,'' he “encountered pushback from Spitzer's appointee, Patrick Dixon.''
Tucker alleges that the report should have been made public under a new state law regarding release of misconduct allegations.
“Follo's account was corroborated by several other officials who indicated the 11-page report leak may have been orchestrated by Conklin in order to help Spitzer get elected and covered up by Spitzer's team after he had been elected,'' Tucker alleges in his claim.
Tucker also allege that Walters directed him in February 2019 to help a “wealthy political donor'' to Spitzer with a fraud investigation.
Tucker said he spoke with the donor's attorney for an hour and concluded there “was no crime to investigate,'' and that the attorney asked Tucker to “conduct a criminal history inquiry and citizenship check on the alleged suspect, who was a plaintiff in a pending civil suit against the wealthy donor and her company.''
Tucker told Walters about the “unethical and illegal request to access police records,'' according to his claim, which says Spitzer's benefactor gave more than $6,000 to the D.A. in campaign contributions since 2011.
Tucker says he informed Walters he would not help Spitzer's political donors after a “rash of other donors and supporters'' calling him for help and dropping Spitzer's name. Tucker said he told Follo the same thing on Feb. 13, 2020.
Tucker's claim says he also realized after reviewing campaign contribution forms that “several defense attorneys who donated to Spitzer political campaigns appeared to be receiving preferential treatment in the disposition of their cases once Spitzer came into office. It became apparent to (Tucker) that Spitzer, with the assistance of Walters, was monetizing and corrupting the OCDA office in a ‘pay-to-play' scheme like that being investigated during Conklin's investigation.''
Tucker claims he was so concerned about a cover-up that he called the Orange Police Department to “preserve the evidence, including the calls Richters made to the Orange Police Department about Spitzer'' in June of last year.
Tucker was informed on June 26 that he was being investigated by the D.A.'s human resources department for “making inquiries about Spitzer with the (Orange Police Department),'' he says in the claim.
Tucker says in an “unusual'' move, an outside attorney was brought in to question him about “issues unrelated to the purported policy violations being investigated'' and instead “focused on what evidence (Tucker) had to incriminate Spitzer, including where evidence was located, and whether (Tucker) intended on locating the evidence.'' Tucker refused to answer, according to his claim, and he was placed on administrative leave Oct. 28 and fired Dec. 16.
Tucker claims he was “retaliated against and ultimately wrongfully terminated by the OCDA, including Spitzer and Walters, because of his investigation of Conklin/Spitzer, which revealed substantial criminal conduct on the part of Spitzer.''
Spitzer said the 2017 investigation by his predecessor was “unethical'' and a “blatant conflict of interest and an absolute misuse of government resources for political gain.''
Spitzer said Conklin exonerated him, which led to his “ultimate retaliatory dismissal'' from the District Attorney's Office.
Spitzer disputed Tucker's assertion that he was assigned to investigate Conklin for the leak, saying it was a “ruse'' to “unilaterally decide to reopen the closed investigation against me in July of 2018...''
Spitzer said Tucker's investigation was a politically motivated one by Rackauckas in the heated campaign and after his poor showing in the primary.
Spitzer claimed a police officer reported that Tucker was trying to dig up dirt on Spitzer and that there were no calls to police about Spitzer. He further argued that Tucker was engaging in payback for Spitzer's public chastising of Tucker for social media photos of him “bragging'' about “X-rated adventures in Las Vegas'' with the then-chief of staff of the D.A.'s office.
“I will not tolerate anyone using taxpayer resources to carry out their own personal agendas under the color of authority,'' Spitzer said. “We will fight this case all the way to trial if I have my say with the county risk management. This is exactly the behavior I pledged to clean up in the District Attorney's Office -- and I am doing just that.''
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