Los Angeles Times

Luna hands gun permit investigat­ion to state

- By Keri Blakinger Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyi­an contribute­d to this report.

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 matter over to state prosecutor­s.

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

News of the investigat­ion stirred controvers­y on the campaign trail, in part because then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva put his often-criticized Public Corruption Unit in charge of handling the case. That move sparked concerns about the department investigat­ing itself instead of referring the matter elsewhere.

“When I got here, we did turn it over to the state attorney general’s office,” Luna told The Times in an interview Monday at the Hall of Justice. “That had no business being in 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 took issue with the suggestion that the sheriff’s department should not handle the investigat­ion directly.

“If Sheriff Luna claims that the CCW/fraud investigat­ion ‘had no business being in this building,’ then that only demonstrat­es that he himself has no business in the building,” Villanueva said.

Though the former sheriff said the investigat­ion began in late 2021, the case didn’t become public until September, when the department issued a brief news release.

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

The release included few details about the specific allegation­s, other than saying that Villanueva was “disappoint­ed” at the alleged wrongdoing and that the investigat­ion arose as the “result of irregulari­ties discovered in the CCW applicatio­n process.”

The release didn’t specify what those irregulari­ties were — but, a few weeks later, the Los Angeles Times published an investigat­ion into the department’s handling of concealed carry permits.

Though Villanueva had repeatedly boasted of his success in increasing the number of people allowed to carry guns in public, The Times found that among the thousands who received such permits were dozens of Villanueva donors and others with special links to the then-sheriff.

These permit recipients often gave questionab­le reasons for needing to be armed, received their permits more quickly 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 duty in September, and detectives showed up at Del Real’s home to ask her questions and seize evidence.

Three months later, Del Real and Robles filed a lawsuit in state court, alleging that they’d been sexually harassed at work as early as 2020 and that they’d been put under criminal investigat­ion only in retaliatio­n for reporting the harassment.

“The investigat­ion is related 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. “Plaintiffs both worked in the CCW Unit but had ministeria­l roles and did not make determinat­ions on which individual­s should be issued a CCW.”

In court filings, the lawyers for the county denied the allegation­s and offered a number of defenses, including that the county’s actions were “taken for legitimate, nondiscrim­inatory, nonpretext­ual, nonharassi­ng, and nonretalia­tory reasons.”

Attorneys for the women did not offer additional comment for this story.

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

But at the time, officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told The Times they were not involved, and a spokespers­on for the FBI told a local television station the same thing.

This week, Villanueva said his Public Corruption Unit had previously reached out “to both state and federal law enforcemen­t agencies for assistance,” but that “the Internal Criminal Investigat­ion Bureau ultimately took charge of the criminal investigat­ion, which is standard practice and literally the core mission of that unit.”

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