Punches and Politics

A candidate says he's ready to fight for the people—but his criminal record shows he's also fought with them

When he's on the campaign trail, legislative candidate Eric Carbajal Bustamante likes to boast about his experience in law enforcement.

But Bustamante is tight-lipped about his experiences on the wrong side of the law.

Court records show the 26-year-old Democratic candidate for House of Representatives in Legislative District 27 has had multiple criminal charges brought against him, the most serious being a 2007 charge for reckless and intentional assault after punching San Manuel resident Dario Estrada at a late-night party.

"He assaulted me," said Estrada. "He waited until I turned the other way and just, you know, cheap-shotted me."

Estrada said Bustamante came to his house for a party after the bars closed, and was giving Estrada's beer to underage kids. Estrada said he told him to leave, and Bustamante socked the host, knocking Estrada down and causing a concussion. Estrada said he went to the emergency room the next day and had to take two days off work to nurse the injury.

Bustamante left the party before the cops arrived, but when the law finally caught up to him five months later, the court sentenced him to six months of unsupervised probation and ordered him to pay $870, including $350 in restitution. He was also ordered to attend 12 hours of anger-management classes.

When asked about the charges after a Clean Elections debate last week, Bustamante had no comment and threatened to call security if I continued to ask questions.

The next day, Bustamante agreed to meet with the Weekly, and although he arrived with a four-person entourage and filmed the interview, he again refused to comment on the charges.

"What I'm commenting about is how I'm a political fighter," said Bustamante, who showed off a new campaign sticker that featured a pair of boxing gloves. "I've been fighting for children and working families, and I want to fight for jobs, and that's the whole reason I'm running for state representative."

When contacted later to respond specifically to Estrada's version of events, Bustamante emphatically denied giving beer to underage kids.

"That is a totally false accusation that he made. That is not true. I've never done that, nor have I been to court for that. ... I did not serve alcohol to minors, nor would I ever do that."

Bustamante then threatened legal action.

"The infraction was disorderly conduct; it was not serving alcohol to minors. I want to make that very clear with you right now. I hope you understand that."

Besides the 2007 assault, Bustamante has been charged with criminal disorderly conduct two other times: in 2003 (when additional charges of criminal damage and underage drinking were dismissed) and in 2006.

Bustamante works as a behavioral-health associate and says he knows the problems at-risk youth face, because he was one. His first run-in with the law came at the age of 15, when police cited him for driving without a license in 1999. He has racked up at least 11 other traffic tickets since then, including one charge for failing to appear in court.

This isn't Bustamante's first run for office. In 2008, he ran in a crowded Democratic primary for a House seat in southeast Tucson's Legislative District 29.

He received $19,000 in public funds to run his 2008 campaign. This month, he received more than $14,000 from Clean Elections for his 2010 campaign in Legislative District 27, which stretches west from the University of Arizona to Three Points. He faces seven other Democrats in the crowded race for two open House seats: former state lawmakers John Kromko and Sally Ann Gonzales, and Sami Hamed, John Bernal, Dustin Cox, Bob Gilby and Macario Saldate.

Despite a rambling performance at the 2008 Clean Elections debate (see "Six Pack," July 24, 2008), Bustamante finished a respectable fourth in the seven-way Democratic primary. He was the last candidate in the race to qualify for Clean Elections funds, and had about two weeks to spend the money before the primary election.

In those 16 days, he paid his brother Ernest more than $6,000, including almost $3,900 for salary and travel on behalf of his campaign. His sister Elyssa was paid about $2,800 for salary and travel. In total, the candidate paid $11,000 in salary, travel and reimbursements to people with the last name Bustamante.

But the first Bustamante he paid was himself. On Aug. 22, 2008, only four days after receiving Clean Elections funds, Bustamante took $1,000 in "petty cash" out of his Clean Elections account.

Two days later, he paid off the $870 in fines and restitution stemming from the 2007 assault.

When asked about the timing, Bustamante said the interview was over and stood up to leave. When pressed, he said he didn't spend the money on court fees and restitution, and said he would provide the Weekly with receipts.

We had not received the receipts as of our press deadline.

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