Lawsuit claims LA County Sheriff Villanueva, wife run department like their ‘own personal fiefdom’

La Habra Heights, CA - June 07: Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, shown with his wife, LASD Sgt. Vivian Villanueva, speaks to the media after voting in California's primary election at The Park in La Habra Heights Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Al

A new lawsuit filed against Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva claims he and his wife run the department like "their own personal fiefdom and business."

The lawsuit was filed by Vanessa Chow, a sergeant with the LASD who was also the sheriff’s liaison to the Board of Supervisors.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff claims unlawful retaliation by Sheriff Villanueva and those in his inner circle.  

One of those in his inner circle is his wife, Vivian Villanueva. According to the lawsuit, Chow claims she was repeatedly harmed by retaliation from the sheriff’s wife, Captain Yvonne O'Brien and Lieutenant Carmen Arballo.

The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff and his wife run LASD like their "own personal fiefdom and business by placing individuals whom they consider as allies in key positions within the department," despite the individuals’ lack of qualifications and ethics.

An example of this included in the claim was the appointment of (then Lieutenant) Yvonne O’Brien as acting Captain of Personnel Administration Bureau despite her lack of qualifications, the lawsuit alleged.  

The lawsuit also claimed that Vivian Villanueva is an associate of the deputy gang, the Banditos, and has acted as the gang’s protector since Villanueva took the sheriff’s seat.  

LASD is accused of having some of its members associated with a secret society of tattooed deputies. A 2019 lawsuit was filed by a group of LASD deputies who claim they were targeted and harassed by members of the Banditos for refusing to join.  

Very little information was released on Vivian’s alleged role with the Banditos.  

RELATED: 'Banditos' Hearing: Dead rats left near LASD members' homes for cooperating with investigations, witness says

The lawsuit also alleges Villanueva "started a war against the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) for personal reasons" before he took office.  

"Villanueva had and has a bizarre chip on his shoulder against the BOS for endorsing the previous incumbent sheriff, James McDonnell, against him in the sheriff’s race," the lawsuit stated.  

The lawsuit claims the sheriff refused to attend monthly meetings with the Supervisors, fought with them about the budget and would ‘bash’ the Supervisors in public. 

Villanueva has "lied repeatedly to the public" by claiming the Board of Supervisors has a vendetta against him, but at the same time the supervisors have "done nothing to curb Villanueva's corruption, retaliation against whistleblowers, and extreme abuse of power," the suit further states.

Chow became the sheriff's liaison to the Board of Supervisors in October 2018, shortly before Villanueva's election. When Chow informed Villanueva that the Board of Supervisors wanted to build a working relationship with him, he told her to tell the supervisors "they could go F*** themselves," for not endorsing him, a message the plaintiff did not relay to the board, the suit states.

In a statement, the department called Sgt. Vanessa Chow's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against the county "a compendium of false statements, omissions, mischaracterizations and outright lies."

The complaint was "strategically designed to drum up publicity for numerous other failing lawsuits, while also assisting the county in attempting to influence the outcome of the upcoming election," according to the department.

Some 15 "frivolous lawsuits" have been filed against the department, all which have the common thread of a lack of accountability for poor performance by the plaintiffs, the department further contends, adding, "We look forward to vigorously challenging these lawsuits in court."

Villanueva, who took office in 2018, is up for reelection in November. He faces off against Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.