A Los Angeles judge has ruled the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department properly obtained warrants to search the home of county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and other locations targeted in a political corruption probe.
However, he ordered the agency to turn over any items seized in the searches to the state Attorney General’s Office, which has taken over the investigation earlier this week.
Attorneys for the sheriff’s department assured Superior Court Judge William Ryan on Sept. 22 the materials would be surrendered to state investigators within two weeks.
The sheriff’s department launched the investigation after a whistleblower alleged that Kuehl contributed to awarding lucrative contracts to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit organization run by her close friend Patricia Giggans. The series of no-bid contracts worth more than $800,000 was for the nonprofit to operate a sex-harassment hotline for public transit riders and employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority between 2014 and 2020.
Last week, sheriff’s investigators searched the homes and offices of Kuehl and Giggans, along with offices at Metro and the Metro Office of Inspector General. After the Sept. 14 raid, Kuehl said a county attorney had contacted her the night before and told her about the search.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva—who has recused himself from any involvement in the investigation to avoid any appearance of conflict, according to the search warrant—sent a letter later that day to the Attorney General’s Office asking it to look into whether county Inspector General Max Huntsman and the county counsel’s office had violated the law by notifying Kuehl of the search ahead of time.
Responding to that request, Attorney General Rob Bonta wrote in the Sept. 20 letter that his office would look into those allegations, but he said since that matter is directly tied to the underlying corruption probe into Kuehl, Metro, Giggans, and Giggans’s nonprofit, he would take that over as well.
During the Sept. 22 hearing in downtown Los Angeles, Ryan, the superior court judge, rejected requests made by attorneys for Kuehl, Metro, and the nonprofit to have the seized items returned. They argued that their clients were unable to continue to work without the computers and hard drives.
However, Ryan also maintained a previous order barring the sheriff’s department from looking into the items before it is turned over to the Attorney General’s Office. Ryan also indicated that a special master will likely need to be appointed by the court to identify any “privileged” material.
Kuehl has strongly denied the allegation, saying she had no involvement in the contracts and did not vote on them as a member of the Metro Board of Directors.
She has blasted the probe as a retaliatory action by Villaneuva, who has repeatedly clashed with the Board of Supervisors over budget and policy issues and has rebuffed subpoenas to appear before the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission, of which Giggans is a member. The commission is in the midst of a series of hearings investigating the activities of alleged deputy gangs within the department.
Villanueva has been defending the probe, saying it originated with a legitimate allegation of criminal activity. He said earlier this week his office had asked the Attorney General’s Office back in February to participate in the investigation.
He also sent a letter Sept. 21 to the Board of Supervisors, demanding that Huntsman—who contacted Kuehl the night before her home was searched—be removed from his inspector general position since he is now the target of at least two investigations by Bonta’s office.
City News Service contributed to this report.