Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus denied the existence of an informant program in his county’s jail to a “60 Minutes” correspondent, the Huffington Post reported.
The District Attorney’s Office faces three investigations over the use of informants, whose credibility has been brought into question. However, Rackauckus told “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi that informants shouldn’t be believed.
“I think you should assume you’re talking to an informant, and if he’s talking, he’s probably lying,” Rackauckas said.
This “60 Minutes” segment featured an interview with a frequently used Orange County informant, Mark Cleveland, who described how he has helped Rackauckas and his office for years. A California appeals court decision also declared there to be an informant program.
“The magnitude of the systemic problems cannot be overlooked,” the California appeals court ruled.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders uncovered the use of the informant program by obtaining records maintained by the D.A.’s office.
Additional motions used by Sanders revealed informant Cleveland testified in five cases between 2008 and 2010, and as recently as 2013 in two other cases, including one argued by Assistant District Attorney Howard Gundy.
Despite a line in Cleveland’s file labeling him as a “problem informant,” prosecutors continued to rely on his information.
The use of jail informants with shady character is widespread in Orange County, and this practice was used by Rackauckus himself. He admitted that he used informants in “several cases” going back all the way to 1985.
Rackauckus even went as far as using one informant, James Cochrum, who the Los Angeles Times labeled, “the most used informant,” and who Sanders called, “a consummate scam artist.”
Cochrum has a colorful history of using 13 different names during the commission of crimes across three states and while in the military.
This same informant said he “overheard murder confessions and testified in three of them.” He was considered so valuable that Rackauckus himself accompanied this informant back to Utah and spoke to the parole board on his behalf, according to the Huffington Post.
Rackauckas maintains that his office has not abused the jail informant program. A Justice Department investigation into Orange County’s questionable practices is underway.