County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl blasts sheriff for search of her home

‘I don’t think there is any question that this is political retaliation,’ Kuehl said of the probe, blaming political rival Sheriff Alex Villanueva

Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives issued search warrants early Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the homes of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Civilian Oversight Commissioner Patti Giggans as part of an ongoing investigation into county contracts awarded to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit run by Giggans.

The investigation included simultaneous raids at the offices of L.A. County Metro, Peace Over Violence‘s headquarters and the county Hall of Administration, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

A copy of the search warrant states detectives had permission to take computers, cellphones and other electronics from the supervisor and commissioner’s homes. From L.A. Metro and Peace Over Violence, the investigation sought contracts between the two entities for the operation of Metro’s harassment hotline, call logs from the hotline, any internal evaluations or audits of the hotline and communications between the two entities, Giggans, Kuehl and other local officials from 2014 to 2020.

“This case involves an investigation into an allegation of criminal conduct involving Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Sheila Ann Kuehl and 3 “sole source” contracts awarded to a non-profit operating under the name ‘Peace Over Violence,’ ” the warrant states.

The Sheriff’s Department believes the case may involve conflict of interest, bribery, conspiracy and theft of public funds, according to the affidavit attached to the warrants.

“The purpose is to prove — or disprove — the identified parties involved in the allegations of criminal wrongdoing,” said Undersheriff Tim Murakami, who leads the sheriff’s public corruption unit, in a prerecorded video released the same day.

In response to the raids, Kuehl and other officials have accused Sheriff Alex Villanueva of using such investigations to attack his political adversaries.

“This morning’s storming of my home by deputies with bulletproof vests and tactical gear was an effort to harass, intimidate and retaliate against a public figure who has been an outspoken critic of LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva,” Kuehl said in a statement. “I am not the only such critic, and other courageous County leaders have also been the targets of this Sheriff’s vindictiveness.”

Murakami denied the sheriff played any role in the searches and said Villanueva “has been recused from the inquiry and delegated all of his responsibility and authority” to the undersheriff. However, later in the day, Villanueva sent a signed letter to the state Attorney General’s Office calling for an investigation into whether county counsel or the Office of the Inspector General tipped Kuehl and Giggans off about the search warrants ahead of time.

Detectives were met at the door by Giggans and her attorney, according to Villanueva’s letter.

In an interview, Kuehl said she received a late-night text message from county counsel about a rumor that her home was going to be searched the next morning. The next day, deputies pounded on her door about 7 a.m. and escorted her outside. The supervisor dismissed the investigation as a “thuggish attempt to intimidate and silence” her criticism of Villanueva.

“They can search through all of my computers and phones, they’re not going to find anything at all, because there wasn’t anything and there isn’t anything,” Kuehl said. “I don’t think there is any question that this is political retaliation.”

Heart of the probe

The sheriff’s probe into Kuehl and Giggans appears to follow a Fox 11 investigation in September 2020 that determined the harassment hotline received only a few dozen calls per month and effectively cost Metro about $8,000 per call.

Jennifer Loew, a former Metro employee whose complaint is the backbone of the sheriff’s case, previously alleged Peace Over Violence received the contract in 2017 via a behind-the-scenes push from Supervisor Kuehl, a close friend and ally of Giggans. Loew sued Metro in February 2020, alleging discrimination and conspiracy. The case was settled in November 2021.

Loew received nearly half a million dollars in exchange for her resignation from Metro and signed a nondisclosure agreement that bars her from speaking about many of the same individuals named in the sheriff’s investigation, according to her husband, Adam Loew.

In an interview, Adam Loew said he personally approached the sheriff with the allegations. “I have been pushing on this,” he said.

Kuehl attributed the sheriff’s investigation to the complaints of a “disgruntled” and “obsessed” former Metro employee. The affidavit attached to the search warrant redacts the name of the female witness, but the descriptions and allegations appear to match Jennifer Loew’s allegations.

The affidavit states that the unnamed whistleblower alleged former Metro CEO Phil Washington at one point ordered her to pay a $75,000 bill from Peace Over Violence “so he could later use that to his advantage when he needed a political favor from Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.”

Adam Loew denied his wife is “disgruntled,” adding that she continued to work at Metro until the settlement agreement was finalized last year.

Campaign contributions

The warrant further alleges that the $890,000 paid to Peace Over Violence from 2014 to 2020 came after campaign contributions were made to Kuehl from Giggans and other members of the nonprofit’s board.

Kuehl denied the allegations, saying she never voted on the contract and knew nothing about it until she was invited to a press conference announcing the partnership. The contracts were approved by Washington without the board’s involvement.

“There is nothing supporting this warrant,” she said. “The judge who signed it is a friend of the sheriff, so there were multiple searches today for virtually no reason.”

In response, Adam Loew pointed to a February 2016 email between Giggans and Madeleine Moore, Kuehl’s deputy for special projects, in which Moore offers ideas for the future hotline. Metro and Peace Over Violence first entered into an agreement in 2015 to create the “Off Limits” anti-harassment outreach campaign, according to Peace Over Violence’s website. The 24/7 hotline soft-launched in late 2016 and was fully revealed at a press conference that included the Board of Supervisors in January 2017, the website states.

“Even if she didn’t know at the time the contracts were happening, she was certainly made aware in 2019 and continued to allow the contracts to go on, knowing full well they were not bid,” Adam Loew alleged.

Kuehl’s office was unable to immediately provide clarification.

Peace Over Violence’s attorney did not return a call for comment. The nonprofit’s website, which addresses the allegations at length, states that Peace Over Violence followed the directions and guidance of Jennifer Loew throughout the contracting process.

Metro has similarly denied the Loews’ allegations repeatedly in the past.

“The main contract in question was managed by the employee herself, and her complaints were aired only after her subordinates were removed by Metro,” spokesman Dave Sotero told the Denver Post last year.

Sotero on Wednesday said Metro is fully cooperating with the Sheriff’s Department to comply with the warrants.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who also sits on the Metro Board of Directors, issued a statement blasting the investigation, according to City News Service.

“This is a bogus, vindictive, politically motivated witch hunt by a corrupt sheriff with a track record of abusing his power and trying to silence and intimidate his critics,” Bonin said. “Sheila Kuehl is a public official of the highest integrity and of remarkable accomplishment. Alex Villanueva runs a department notorious for violence, scandal and civil rights violations. He is scared of civilian oversight, defies civilian oversight and is abusing his power to get revenge on those who exercise civilian oversight.”

The Sheriff’s Department in a news release stated that its investigation “has been shared with a federal agency and they continue to monitor.” The department did not disclose the agency and declined to comment further. Adam Loew said he has spoken to investigators from the FBI about the matter.

Probe launched year ago

Detectives have been probing the contracts awarded to Peace Over Violence for more than a year. Similar searches at Peace Over Violence and Metro last year sought the same types of records as those outlined in the Wednesday search warrants. The new warrant states the statute of limitations is approaching and that computers and other items not provided in those previous searches could be “needed to complete this investigation.”

“For more than a year, the sheriff has been very upset with our critique of him and I think just took this opportunity to try again, to divert attention from his failure as the sheriff,” Kuehl said.

Court records indicated that the earlier investigation into Metro and Peace Over Violence, headed last year by Detective Max Fernandez, was presented much differently behind closed doors. Fernandez reportedly expressed doubts about the probe in emails and conversations with attorneys, court records showed.

In one email, Fernandez stated he does not believe Giggans did anything wrong.

“So officially I would like to say (in writing) that my opinion is that Ms. Giggans does not seem to have any fault in this matter,” Fernandez wrote in an email to Austin Dove, an attorney representing Peace Over Violence. “She is not a Politian (sic) and might have been tossed in the group hastily.”

In a statement, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which typically handles public corruption cases of this type, distanced itself from the investigation, saying it had reviewed the case in September 2021 “and determined that the state of evidence at that time did not provide criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“LASD indicated that they would continue to investigate,” the statement read. “We have not had additional contact on the matter and were not consulted or aware of the search warrants that were served today.”

Because it wasn’t involved with the search warrant, the District Attorney’s Office does not “intend to defend it if challenged in court.”

Villanueva publicly supported the unsuccessful recall effort against District Attorney George Gascón and the two men have clashed numerous times over the last year.

Political retribution?

The timing and circumstances around the sheriff’s probe has raised concerns of political retaliation, particularly because of the involvement of Kuehl and Giggans, the executive director of Peace Over Violence and Kuehl’s appointee to the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission. The nine-member commission advises the Board of Supervisors and was created to increase transparency and accountability at the Sheriff’s Department.

Click here to read the full article in the Los Angeles Daily News

Comments

  1. Everett Haggin says

    It’s about time they’re investigating REAL crimes and not made-up lies by democrats on republicans!!!

  2. CA_is_a_liberal_hellhole says

    There’a a lot more to this story than the media is letting on.

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