DA investigating Villanueva for possible campaign finance violation

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is being investigated by the District Attorney's Office to determine if he violated campaign finance laws with a video plea to deputies for donations during his reelection bid, the office confirmed Wednesday.

The investigation, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, focuses on a video that was circulated to members of the department last week. On the video, Villanueva speaks into the camera and says the message is aimed at deputies, whom he asks to consider making donations to his campaign.

On the video, the sheriff said the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs — the union representing deputies — was not funding for his reelection campaign. ALADS, which pumped money into the sheriff's original campaign four years ago, endorsed Villanueva this year, but he said the group wasn't contributing financially.

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"It's up to each and every one of you who you want to be as sheriff," he said on the video. "We're gonna win this thing, and Lord willing, and if you want to help, anything will help us get our message out there, get our ads online and on TV and our texting going on."

He concludes by asking for any type of donation to help his campaign.

According to The Times, state law and sheriff's department policy both prohibit an agency employee from soliciting political contributions from other employees.

In a statement Wednesday, Tiffiny Blacknell, director of communications for the District Attorney's Office, confirmed the office is looking into the video.

"The video has come to our attention," Blacknell said. "We take these matters seriously and it is currently under review. A formal investigation by our PID (Public Integrity Division) union has been initiated. We cannot comment further at this time."

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Asked about the investigation by The Times during his election-night party Tuesday, Villanueva denied any wrongdoing, telling the paper, "We did not violate any laws. That is nonsense."

He also said District Attorney George Gascón — whom Villanueva has repeatedly publicly criticized as being soft on crime — should recuse himself from the investigation.

Semi-official results from Tuesday's election show Villanueva trailing in his reelection bid against former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna. Thus far, Luna had about 57% of the vote to Villanueva's 43%. The race likely won't be decided, however, until all outstanding ballots are tallied. It was unclear exactly how many ballots are still remaining.