(Editor’s note: this story is done in cooperation with Jamie Paige, editor of Westside Current, and City News Service.)
What did L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl do to have a search warrant and affidavit served at her Santa Monica home at 7 a.m. today?
Nothing – she said.
Kuehl told reporters that one of the sheriff’s deputies “presented a warrant to search the house, which has no information in it at all, signed by a judge who is a friend of a sheriffs.”
Search warrants were served at other locations, too, including the home of L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commissioner Patricia Giggans, the L.A. County Hall of Administration, Peace Over Violence Headquarters and L.A. Metro Headquarters.
According to the warrant released by LASD, it is alleged there is impropriety in Top of Form Contracts awarded by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to the nonprofit group Peace Over Violence, which is run by Giggans, a close friend of Kuehl’s.
“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).”
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.
That report 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.
About Loew, Kuehl said, “This whole thing is drummed up I think by a very disaffected ex-employee.”
According to the affidavit, that witness claims former Metro CEO Phillip Washington pushed forward the sole-source contract to Peace Over Violence “to remain `in good graces’ with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.”
The witness also claimed she pointed out billing irregularities involving Peace Over Violence to Washington, who ordered her to pay bills because he did not want to “upset any of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s friends.”
The affidavit contends that evidence gathered by the search warrants “may prove that there was a `corrupt agreement’ between Kuehl and Giggans to award and receive the sole source contracts in return for campaign donations, political power and continued opportunities to enrich each other in a variety of ways.”
The affidavit also cites a 2020 Fox11 investigation which found that Peace Over Violence’s operation of the sex-harassment hotline was costing taxpayers more than $8,000 per phone call.
The station reported that 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, the station reported. Of the 349 calls to the line in 2019, 260 were wrong numbers or hang-ups, according to Fox11.
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 station reported.
Responding to the Fox11 report in 2020, Metro defended the contracts with a statement saying, “Yes, there have been misdialed numbers or hang-ups, but of that total number, more than 230 calls have been specific sexual assault or harassment calls that have helped victims. The success of the hotline is not based on the volume of calls. It is a critical resource available to our transit customers 24/7. If 911 received a low number of calls, would you recommend it be shut down?”
Peace Over Violence told the station, in part, “We do not inflate the call numbers and we count accurately all the calls that are received on the Off Limits hotline. According to our contract, all calls coming into the hotline are legitimate.
“… We cannot put a price tag on serving a survivor of violence and there are no quotas associated with our hotlines. We are there to serve the people that call 24/7. This is not a fee-per-survivor service. Metro is paying for the program, not per survivor.”
Kuehl told news outlets that “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 recused himself from any involvement in the investigation.
Another troubling aspect of this case is Kuehl told reporters today that she had been tipped off the night before about the search by a County Counsel, who had heard from Max Huntsman, LA County Inspector General. That is illegal to tip someone off that they will be searched. It allows them to get rid of any incriminating information.
Villanueva, who is not involved in the investigation because of a conflict of interest, sent a request for an investigation to Rob Bonta, California’s attorney general.
“The investigation has been shared with a federal agency and they continue to monitor,” LASD said in a statement. “This remains an active investigation and we are unable to comment further at this time, although in full transparency the search warrant [39 pages] has been posted online at LASD.org.”
The L.A. Times quoted Bonin, who called the search, a “vindictive, politically motivated witch hunt.”