Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators searched County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s home on Wednesday as part of a criminal investigation into a county contract awarded to a non-profit organization.
Minutes after 7 a.m., a deputy pushed at the front door of the supervisor’s Santa Monica property, with several other representatives standing behind him.
“Sheriff’s Department. We have the warrant. We demand entry,” he shouted. Kuehl appeared shortly after and was handed some paperwork. Several legislators went in.
A barefoot Kuehl was taken away from the house and his phone was snatched from him. Inside, sheriff’s investigators could be seen opening and closing the doors. A deputy appeared to be taking the photo or video.
A copy of the warrant signed by Superior Court Judge Craig Richman revealed that the search was linked to an ongoing investigation into violence over peace, a non-profit run by Patti Giggons, a member of the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission and close to Kuehl. were friends. , Both Kuehl and Gigans have clashed with Sheriff Alex Villanueva and called for his resignation.
Sheriff’s investigators also searched Gigan’s home, his non-profit offices, the offices of the LA County Hall of Administration, and the headquarters of the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which awarded the contract to Giggons’ organization. The search warrant for Kuehl’s home authorized investigators to confiscate any documents or electronic files “relating to a peace-over-violence contract takeover”.
In a brief statement, the sheriff’s department announced the search, but declined to provide details, citing an ongoing criminal investigation. Later, in an unusual move, the department posted on its website a detailed description of the case that was submitted to Richman when investigators sought a warrant. In it, investigators claimed that a number of bribery and other contracts-related offenses may have been committed, including “bribery of a county supervisor”.
The district attorney’s office said in a statement that the sheriff’s department presented a criminal case to prosecutors for consideration in September 2021, but they determined that the evidence “did not prove criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The district attorney’s office said the sheriff’s department indicated they would continue the investigation.
“We have had no additional contact on the matter and were neither consulted nor informed about the search warrants issued today. In this case, because we did not review the warrant earlier, we do not intend to defend it if challenged in court,” it said.
The warrant marked a dramatic escalation of the sheriff’s long-running investigation into nonprofit contracts and rekindled critics’ angry claims that Villanueva was targeting political enemies and others who surpassed him. Using a secret public corruption unit. Villanueva refuted the claims, saying that he had disassociated himself from the unit’s work to avoid conflicts of interest.
“Alex, I’m told, distanced himself from it, but that means he knows about it and … all the blame rests with him anyway,” Kuehl said of Villanueva. “If he doesn’t know about it, it means there’s a rogue element within the sheriff’s department. And somehow, it’s completely out of control.”
The Peace Over Violence investigation stems from allegations by Jennifer Lowe, a Metro employee who alleged that she was targeted for retaliation by supervisors after making a misconduct claim against the agency. The employee has claimed, among other things, that Kuehl improperly helped Gigan’s nonprofit win a contract to operate a hotline to report sexual harassment on public transportation.
LA County Sheriff’s investigators arrived at County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s home early Wednesday with a search warrant.
The statement given to the judge clarified that investigators were focused on a series of contracts awarded to the nonprofit from 2014 to 2020, valued at more than $800,000. The statement said the hotline was a “complete failure”, but that the contract was still extended without competitive bidding or analysis.
According to the statement, a whistleblower, whose name was modified, told sheriff’s investigators that the contract was extended by Metro chief executive Philip Washington “to be ‘in good grace’ with Kuehl.”
It also details campaign contributions received from Giggins and others associated with the nonprofit, alleging that “charities may be seen as hotline contracts given for payment in lieu of future payments”.
In an interview outside his home while the search was underway, Kuehl denied any wrongdoing and called the allegations “completely bogus”, adding that he “knew nothing about the contract” and The board of observers did not vote on whether to approve it.
“I think this whole thing is orchestrated by a very disaffected former employee,” Kuehl said. Kuehl also said county attorneys alerted him to an impending search Tuesday night.
Following his comments, Villanueva sent a letter to California Etsy. General Rob Bonta asked Kuehl to launch a criminal investigation into the early warnings he received, as well as what Villanueva said were “obvious” signs that Giggons already knew. In the letter, Villanueva accuses Max Huntsman, the sheriff’s inspector general, who has repeatedly clashed with Villanueva, of being involved in tipping Kuehl.
Huntsman denied the allegation. “But he is right about one thing: the phone records will show whether I tipped them or not. I didn’t,” he said.
Court records show that Lowe had a settlement in the lawsuit filed against Metro. Her husband, Adam Lowe, said Wednesday that the settlement was worth more than half a million dollars.
As the search of Kuehl’s home continued, another group of deputys were in and out of Gigan’s home a few miles away, carrying a computer and flash drive. Giggons said he had a warrant signed by the same judge, Richman, to seek the technology. She also said that investigators seized the nonprofit’s servers during a search of her office.
“I don’t know how we’ll be able to act,” she said. “The server is, you know, all communication.”
Her attorney, Austin Dove, said the investigation was motivated by the sheriff’s oversight of contempt.
“These are third world strategies,” Dove said. “Vladimir Putin will be impressed.”
When a tow truck prepared to take over his car, Giggons angrily protested, saying that the warrant did not authorize the vehicle to be seized. “It’s a lawsuit in the making,” said Gigans, “the bullies.”
Villanueva’s critics have sounded the alarm about the public corruption unit that carried out Wednesday’s search. Last year, the county’s district attorney, George Gascon, decided he had nothing to do with the unit after sheriff’s officers proposed the two agencies form a task force. Cooperate in public corruption investigations.
“He is only targeting political enemies,” Gascon told The Times last year of Villanueva. “It was clear I didn’t want to do that kind of work, so we declined.”
Shortly after Gascon refused to partner with the Sheriff’s Department, Villanueva emerged as a strong supporter of the Gascon recall campaign, which ultimately failed to oust the district attorney from office.
The slow pace of the unit’s investigation and its apparent lack of results have only deepened the suspicion.
“These highly publicized criminal investigations have never resulted in charges that suggest an ulterior motive,” said Sean Kennedy, a Loyola Law School professor who sits on the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission. Villanueva is abusing his power.
Sheriff’s investigators have already issued warrants related to the hotline contract allegations.
Last year, a member of the Public Corruption Unit showed up to the offices of Violence on Peace and introduced himself as a sex crimes investigator. Investigator, Sgt. Max Fernandez is given a tour of the office and leaves his business card.
A week or two later, Fernandez reappeared with a warrant, Giggons said at the time.
Fernandez was looking for records of the group’s contracts with public agencies, including one with Metro, to operate the hotline. The warrant also sought records on the organization’s employees’ communications with various county officials, including Kuehl.
At that time, similar warrants were issued by the Sheriff’s Department on Metro officials and the Inspector General of Metro.
Giggons complied with the warrant given to his nonprofit. Meanwhile, lawyers for Metro and Metro Inspector General filed papers in the court asking a judge to quash the warrants issued on those agencies. For more than a year, lawyers from all sides have been litigating the case and out of court. A judge determined that the original warrants were too broad, and this month, the parties were in court to narrow down the scope of the warrants granted last year.
Despite a court hearing two weeks earlier, sheriff’s investigators, in a statement to Richman to secure the warrant, claimed that Metro and Metro’s inspector general had “not surrendered the articles previously requested for the search warrant and non-compliance”. He requested Richman to sign the new warrant because of a “quickly approaching statute of limitations”.
The statement said investigators asked to search the homes of Kuehl and Giggons, not just their offices, because they are working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. . He requested a search of Giggons’ home for computers and cellphones because several emails previously provided by him as part of the warrant said they were “sent via iPhone.”
One of the principal investigators of the sheriff’s public corruption unit is Mark Lillianfeld, a retired homicide investigator with a decades-long relationship with Richman, the judge who approved the warrant granted Wednesday.
They have known each other since at least 1996, when Richman was a prosecutor investigating Lillianfeld in an attempted murder case. The detective will later go to the judge’s house to sign the warrant. Lillianfeld’s wife worked in Richman’s courtroom, transcribing the hearing as an official court reporter.
Their relationship came under scrutiny several years ago, when the Interior Sheriff’s Department investigated whether Lillianfeld had tried to help Richman out of legal trouble.