Days after Sheriff Robert Luna confirmed that an investigation into an alleged firearm enabling fraud was being turned over to state prosecutors, the department backtracked on that statement on Thursday and said the case was instead entrusted to federal authorities.
During an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday, Luna said it would have been a “conflict of interest” for the sheriff’s department to handle the case, and that once he took office, he would make sure to send the matter elsewhere, just as he had suggested during the election campaign.
“When I got here, we turned it over to the state attorney general’s office,” he said in a Hall of Justice interview. “It had nothing to do with this building.”
After The Times ran a story Thursday morning about the case, Jason Skeen – Luna’s chief of staff – reached out to say the sheriff had misspoken and, in fact, the case hadn’t come to a head. not been referred to state prosecutors.
“Investigators have met with the FBI,” Skeen said. “It was towards the end of January.”
An FBI spokeswoman neither confirmed nor denied the encounter or investigation. But after initially deferring to local authorities, a spokesperson for the California attorney general confirmed Thursday that the sheriff’s department did not refer the case to that office.
News from the investigation first made public last year, when two deputies were relieved of their duties and a gun store in Monterey Park was raided. The actions were part of an investigation that officials said stemmed from the discovery of “irregularities” in the process for issuing concealed carry licenses, also known as CCW permits.
Then-sheriff Alex Villanueva put his oft-criticized speech Public Corruption Unit in charge of the investigation which, according to him, began at the end of 2021.
In a news release in September, the department said detectives served warrants at “multiple locations regarding gun law violations” and, in the process, seized evidence implicating “individuals who appear to have been involved in a possible long-term scheme to defraud the citizens of Los Angeles County.
The statement included few details about the specific allegations. But, a few weeks later, The Times published an investigation in the department’s handling of concealed carry permits. The Times found that among the thousands of people who received such permits were dozens of Villanueva donors and others connected to him. Several gave dubious reasons for having to be armed, received their permits faster than average or were assisted by two deputies who worked directly for Villanueva.
These members — Gisel Del Real and Carrie Robles — were relieved of their duties in September and detectives showed up at Del Real’s home to ask him questions and seize evidence.
Three months later, Del Real and Robles filed a lawsuit in state court, alleging they had been sexually harassed at work as early as 2020 and had not been criminally investigated. only in retaliation for reporting the harassment.
During the election campaign, Luna criticized Villanueva’s handling of the case, saying “The sheriff should not and cannot investigate himself.”
In emails this week, Villanueva said that had never been the case and that he was “deliberately excluded from any involvement and decision-making” regarding investigations by the Public Corruption Unit.
That unit, he said, had contacted “state and federal law enforcement agencies for assistance” before the department’s Bureau of Internal Criminal Investigations took over the incident. affair.
Then in January, after Luna took office, sheriff’s investigators began talking with the FBI. According to Skeen, those conversations eventually led to a meeting and the sheriff’s department passed the matter on.
After this week’s interview, when the sheriff erroneously said the case had been referred to the state’s attorney general, Skeen said he and the sheriff spoke briefly about the case on Wednesday and decided to double-check their facts internally.
The two later realized that he had in fact been turned over to the FBI.
The US attorney’s office did not immediately comment on whether federal prosecutors were involved.