Sheriff says gun license fraud investigation handed to California attorney general

Six months after his predecessor announced a criminal investigation into an alleged fraud scheme involving some of the deputies responsible for issuing concealed carry licenses, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna confirmed this week that he has turned the case over to state prosecutors.

Two deputies were relieved of their duties last year and the sheriff’s department raided a gun store in Monterey Park as part of an investigation officials said stemmed from the discovery of ”irregularities” in the process of issuing concealed carry licenses, also known as CCW permits.

News of the investigation sparked controversy during the election campaign, in part because then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva put his oft-criticized speech Public Corruption Unit responsible for processing the file. The move has raised concerns that the department is investigating itself instead of referring the matter elsewhere.

“When I got here, we turned it over to the state attorney general’s office,” Luna told The Times in an interview Monday at the Hall of Justice. “It had nothing to do with this building.”

A spokesperson for the California attorney general said the office was “aware of the matter” but deferred comment to local authorities.

In an emailed statement this week, Villanueva disputed the suggestion that the sheriff’s department should not handle the investigation directly.

“If Sheriff Luna says the CCW/fraud investigation ‘had no business in that building,’ that only goes to show that he himself has no business in the building,” Villanueva said. .

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in February 2022.

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in February 2022.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Although the former sheriff said the investigation began in late 2021, the case was not made public until September, when the department released a brief press release.

The statement said detectives served warrants at “multiple locations relating to weapons law violations” and that “evidence was seized implicating individuals who appear to have been involved in a possible long-term scheme to defraud. citizens of Los Angeles County”.

The statement included few details about the specific allegations, other than that Villanueva was “disappointed” by the alleged wrongdoing and that the investigation was the “result of irregularities discovered in CCW’s application process.”

The press release did not specify what these irregularities were — but, a few weeks later, the The Los Angeles Times published an investigation in the department’s handling of concealed carry permits.

Although Villanueva has repeatedly bragged about his success in increasing the number of people allowed to carry guns in public, The Times found that among the thousands of people who received such permits were dozens of Villanueva donors and others with special ties to the sheriff at the time.

These permit holders often gave dubious reasons for needing to be armed, received their permits faster than average, or were assisted by two deputies who worked directly for Villanueva.

Those deputies — Gisel Del Real and Carrie Robles — were each relieved of their duties in September, and detectives showed up at Del Real’s home to question him and seize evidence.

LA County Sheriff's Deputies Carrie Robles-Plascencia, left, and Gisel Del Real, right.

LA County Sheriff’s Deputies Carrie Robles-Plascencia, left, and Gisel Del Real, right.

(Sheriff’s Department Memorial)

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.

“The investigation relates to the department issuing CCWs to numerous individuals, some of whom do not meet the legal requirements to receive a CCW,” they wrote in their lawsuit. “The plaintiffs both worked in the CCW unit but had departmental roles and did not determine who should receive CCW.”

In court documents, attorneys for the county denied the allegations and offered a number of defenses, including that the county’s actions were “taken for legitimate reasons, non-discriminatory, without pretext, without harassment and without retaliation”.

The women’s attorneys had no further comment for this story.

There has long been a lack of clarity as to which entities are handling the case. Initially, the department said in its September statement that the warrants were served “in conjunction with state and federal agencies.”

Caps Armory, a Monterey Park armory that was raided by sheriff's investigators

Caps Armory, a Monterey Park armory that was raided by sheriff’s investigators, shown in 2022.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

But at the time, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials told the Times they were not involved, and an FBI spokesperson told a local television station the same. This week, Villanueva said his public corruption unit had previously contacted “state and federal law enforcement agencies for assistance,” but that “the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau ultimately took action. in charge of the criminal investigation, which is a common practice and literally the hard core”. mission of this unit.

During the election campaign, Luna criticized the former sheriff for his handling of the investigation.

“The sheriff quickly attempted to cover his tracks and search the gun store and identified two deputies who may have been involved in the scheme,” he said in October. “But of course, and this is essential, the sheriff should not and cannot investigate himself.”

This week, he reiterated that point.

“How can you legitimately tell the public that your people are investigating it, even though you claim you recused yourself from these cases?” he told The Times. “It’s an absolute conflict of interest.”

Times editor Alene Chekmedyian contributed to this report.

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