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What’s behind L.A. County sheriff’s search of Sheila Kuehl’s home?

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Sheila Kuehl and Patti Giggans have been among the most vocal critics of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Kuehl, a Los Angeles County supervisor, has slammed the sheriff over a series of scandals and allegations of misconduct within the agency. Giggans, a member of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, has also clashed with the department. Both have called on him to step down.

Meanwhile, the two became the subjects of a highly controversial investigation by the department that has heightened concerns about the sheriff and sparked new allegations that the department was going after its political enemies. The Times reported last year about allegations that a public corruption unit formed under Villanueva was targeting critics.

The probe took a dramatic turn on Tuesday when California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta took control of the investigation from the sheriff, saying the move was in the “public interest.”

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“Your department should cease its investigative activity and refrain from any actions in furtherance of these investigations, including public statements or court filings related to the investigations,” Bonta instructed.

Here is a breakdown of what we know from Times reporting:

The probe

The investigation has been going on for many months and sparked concerns that the Sheriff’s Department was targeting Kuehl and Giggans for political reasons. The department has denied this, and Villanueva claims he has recused himself from the investigation.

But it sparked additional scrutiny last week when the department served search warrants at Kuehl’s home and other locations.

A copy of the warrant showed that the search was tied to an ongoing probe into contracts awarded to Giggans’ nonprofit Peace Over Violence. Sheriff’s investigators also searched Giggans’ house, her nonprofit’s offices, offices at the L.A. County Hall of Administration and the headquarters of the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which awarded contracts to Giggans’ organization. The warrant to search Kuehl’s house authorized investigators to seize any documents or electronic files “related to the Peace Over Violence contract acquisition.”

The warrant said the focus is a series of contracts worth more than $800,000 that Metro awarded to the nonprofit between 2014 and 2020 to operate a hotline for reporting sexual harassment on public transit. The statement says that the hotline was a “complete failure” but that the contract was still extended without a competitive bid or analysis.

A whistleblower, whose name was redacted, told sheriff’s investigators that the contract was pushed forward by Metro Chief Executive Phillip Washington “in order to remain ‘in good graces’ with” Kuehl, according to the investigator’s statement attached to the warrant.

Kuehl denied any wrongdoing and called the allegations “totally bogus.” Giggans’ attorney, Austin Dove, said the investigation was driven by the sheriff’s contempt for oversight.

“These are Third World tactics,” Dove said. “Vladimir Putin would be impressed.”

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said that, last September, sheriff’s investigators presented the evidence they had gathered about the Peace Over Violence contracts and asked prosecutors to consider filing criminal charges. Prosecutors refused, finding the evidence “did not prove criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt.”

What is next

A Superior Court judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked sheriff’s investigators from searching computers and other devices seized last week from Kuehl and Metro. He set a hearing for Thursday to discuss the challenges to the warrants and whether his decision to block sheriff’s investigators should remain in place.

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