LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl served with search warrant in public corruption investigation

A search warrant was served Wednesday morning at the Santa Monica home of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl amid what the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is calling "an ongoing public corruption investigation."

The raid was executed around 7 a.m. by the LASD and federal law enforcement. LASD confirmed it also served search warrants at other locations including the home of LA County Civilian Oversight Commissioner Patricia Giggans, as well as the LA County Hall of Administration, Peace Over Violence Headquarters, and LA Metro Headquarters. 

In an exclusive live interview with FOX 11, Kuehl said the warrant to search her home "has no information on it" and was "signed by the judge who is a friend of the sheriff." She denied any wrongdoing.

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"This is a bogus non-investigation," Kuehl said. "There's no investigation going on that would support this warrant."

She later took to Twitter saying, "Today’s early morning search of my home was a thuggish attempt to intimidate and silence not just me but many other public servants who are working hard to rebuild the trust between law enforcement and the communities it is supposed to serve. As a County Supervisor, I’ve done everything I could to bring appropriate oversight and supervision to the LA County Sheriff’s Department, a dept. that has become more and more uncontrolled and troubled under the current LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva."

Video from the morning showed Kuehl being led from the front door of her home outside and speaking with law enforcement. 

Kuehl said this could possibly be related to a disgruntled Metro employee with contracts, adding that "Metro is also being searched." 

Kuehl said the investigation is based "on an old obsession by a Metro employee."

According to Kuehl, the Metro employee in question worked with the department "years ago" and when she was let go, became invested in a contract over the LA Metro hotline and claimed Kuehl was involved.

"Between the years of 2014-2020, a series of 'sole source' contracts were awarded by the MTA to the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization Peace Over Violence totaling over $890,000," according to the affidavit. "A sole source contract is a non-competitive procurement that allows a single supplier to fulfill the contractual obligations and requirements from, in this case, a public entity/government contractor (MTA)."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was served with a search warrant at her Santa Monica home on Wednesday morning.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was served with a search warrant at her Santa Monica home on Wednesday morning. (FOX 11)

Although the sheriff's department declined to comment on the investigation, it released a redacted copy of the affidavit that led to the warrants. That document states the case is a probe into "an allegation of criminal conduct" by Kuehl and three "sole source contracts awarded to a nonprofit organization operating under the name Peace Over Violence" to operate a sexual harassment tip line for employees and riders on the Metro transit system.

The affidavit documents the long history of friendship between Kuehl and Giggans, noting that Kuehl officiated Giggans' wedding in 2004 when she was a state senator. It also noted that Kuehl -- who serves on the Metro Board of Directors -- is a member of the advisory board of Peace Over Violence and that Kuehl appointed Giggans to the Civilian Oversight Commission.

A previous FOX 11 investigation revealed that Peace Over Violence's operation of the sex-harassment hotline was costing taxpayers more than $8,000 per phone call. Although the line was purported to have received 1,300 calls between 2017 and 2020, very few of them turned out to be legitimate, with the vast majority being hang-ups, tests or not applicable to the line's purpose.

In October 2019, only eight of 29 calls reported by Metro turned out to be legitimate harassment reports. Of the 349 calls to the line in 2019, 260 were wrong numbers or hang-ups.

Through August of 2017, only 13 legitimate sexual-harassment-related calls were received on the line, equating to a per-call cost of $8,450.

The investigation was based on allegations made by Jennifer Loew, a former Metro project manager who also alleged that Kuehl had steered the no-bid contracts to Giggans and Peace Over Violence. Loew was not formally identified in the search warrant affidavit, which only cites an unnamed "witness" who raised the allegations. Loew sued Metro for retaliation.

Kuehl said she was notified by an attorney for the county Tuesday night that the sheriff's department was planning to show up at her home Wednesday morning.

In response, Sheriff Villanueva sent a letter to Attorney General Rob Bonta requesting an investigation into Inspector General Max Huntsman and an unidentified County Counsel attorney for tipping off Kuehl about the raid. 

"The illegal acts committed by Mr. Huntsman and County Counsel have potentially comprised the integrity of this criminal investigation, including but not limited to, the concealment or destruction of evidence," Villanueva's letter stated.

"I have never committed a felony," she said.

Kuehl maintains she had no knowledge of the no-bid contract, which was worth $494,000, just under the $500,000 threshold that would have mandated a vote from Metro.

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The Board of Supervisors has had a turbulent relationship with LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

"I think the sheriff's department going along with this Metro employee indicates the sheriff's department is complicit in this," she said. "Alex [Villanueva] I'm told recused himself from this… if he doesn't know about it, that means there's a rogue element within the sheriff's department and either way it's totally out of control."

Villanueva has not commented on the search warrants. The search warrant affidavit notes that Villanueva has in fact recused himself from any involvement in the investigation to avoid any appearance of conflict.

The sheriff is in the midst of a contentious re-election campaign, squaring off in November against former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.

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Mike Bonin, Councilmember for the 11th District of Los Angeles, released a statement in support of Kuehl following the LASD raid. He said in part, "A corrupt sheriff with a track record of abusing his power and trying to silence and intimidate his critics is conducting a bogus, vindictive, politically motivated witch hunt against @SheilaKuehl, a public official of the highest integrity."

West Hollywood city councilmember Lindsey Horvath called the execution of the search warrant at Kuehl's home "unprecedented" and said that Villanueva's "politically motivated tactics" make it "hard to take this situation with the seriousness that it deserves."

"I have a deep fear that locally we are seeing exactly what we saw nationally under the Trump Administration: politically motivated actions and attacks towards critics and dissenters of the Sheriff," Hovarth said.

City News Service contributed to this report.