Days after Sheriff Robert Luna confirmed that the investigation into alleged gun permit fraud had been turned over to state prosecutors, the department on Thursday retracted that statement and said the matter had been turned over 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, simply as had suggested in the electoral campaign.
“When I got here, we turned it over to the state attorney general’s office,” he said during an interview at the Hall of Justice. “That didn’t have to be in this building.”
After The Times published a story on Thursday morning about the case, Jason Skeen, Luna’s chief of staff, reached out to say that the sheriff had been wrong and, in fact, the matter had not been referred to law enforcement. state prosecutors.
“Investigators met with the FBI,” Skeen said. “That was towards the end of January.”
An FBI spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the meeting or the investigation. But after initially deferring to local authorities, a spokesperson for the California attorney general confirmed Thursday that the Sheriff’s Department did not turn the case over to that office.
Research news first was made public last year, when two officers were relieved of duty and raided a Monterey Park gun store. The actions were part of an investigation that officials say stemmed from the discovery of “irregularities” in the process for issuing concealed-carry weapons licenses, also known as CCW permits.
Then-sheriff Alex Villanueva put his oft-criticized Public Corruption Unit in charge of the investigation, which he said had begun in late 2021.
In a September news release, the department said detectives had served arrest warrants at “multiple locations regarding gun law violations” and, in the process, seized evidence involving “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 management of the concealed carry permits department. The Times found that among the thousands who received such permits were dozens of Villanueva’s donors and others with ties to him. Several gave questionable reasons why they needed 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 relieved of duty in September, with detectives showing up at Del Real’s home to question him and seize evidence.
Three months later, Del Real and Robles filed a lawsuit in state court, alleging that they had been sexually harassed at work since 2020 and had only been criminally investigated in retaliation for reporting the harassment.
On the campaign trail, Luna criticized Villanueva’s handling of the case, saying “The sheriff must not and cannot investigate himself.”
In emails this week, Villanueva said that was never the case, and that he was “deliberately removed from any involvement and decision-making” regarding the Public Corruption Unit’s investigations.
That unit, he said, had contacted “state and federal law enforcement agencies for help” before the department’s Office of Internal Criminal Investigation took up the case.
Then in January, after Luna took office, the sheriff’s investigators began talking to the FBI. According to Skeen, those conversations eventually led to a meeting and the Sheriff’s Department turned over the case.
Following this week’s interview, when the sheriff erroneously said the matter had been referred to the state attorney general, Skeen said he and the sheriff spoke briefly about the case Wednesday and decided to check the facts internally.
The two later realized that he had, in fact, been turned over to the FBI.
The federal prosecutor’s office did not immediately comment on whether federal prosecutors have become involved.