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Sheriff Villanueva - Part 2
A drawing of a man's mouth and jaw at the top, with the rest of the drawing taken up with a brown sheriff's uniform, with a dark tie, gold star with a blue circle on it over the man's chest, and a green patch with a star in the middle just below the man's shoulder. Superimposed on the uniform are the words Imperfect Paradise: The Sheriff.
(Miranda Villanueva for LAist)
Episode 2
32:01
Sheriff Villanueva - Part 2
When retired Lt. Alex Villanueva announces his candidacy for sheriff in 2017, no one takes him seriously. But with the support of the local Democratic party, immigrant rights activists, and lots of political savvy, he pulls off a shocking defeat of the sitting sheriff – something that hasn’t happened in over 100 years. Almost as soon as he takes office, Villanueva re-hires a former deputy (and friend) who was fired for domestic violence and lying, and things begin to go off the rails.

Frank Stoltze  00:01

It's a Saturday morning about a month before voting starts in 2018, and I'm inside the sanctuary at Ward AME Church in South LA. I'm here to moderate a debate between [Esther Lim speaks in background] Alex Villanueva and incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell. [clapping] Esther Lim organized it. At the time, Esther worked for the ACLU, going inside LA County jails and monitoring how people were being treated by deputies. As folks are getting seated, she walks up to the front looking exasperated.

Esther Lim  00:33

[audio clip] You will soon notice that one candidate is missing from today's forum. And that is the current Sheriff of Los Angeles, Jim McDonnell. [music in]

Frank Stoltze  00:43

Sheriff McDonnell is the establishment candidate. He's got the backing of everybody, from the mayor of LA to the district attorney. But he didn't show up for this debate. His campaign manager says it's because Villanueva makes false statements about McDonnell and the department. But I think McDonnell also just didn't take Villanueva seriously.

Esther Lim  01:04

[audio clip] If you'd like, jump on Twitter, and urge Sheriff McDonnell to come to this event. It's not too late. In fact, he can come late. [scattered laughter from audience] Just in case, I'm going to place this chair for him at the table should he decide to show up. [some talking amongst audience members]

Frank Stoltze  01:22

There's a table up front with two chairs- one for me, one for Villanueva. [audio clip ambi] Esther pulls up a third chair and tapes a photo of McDonnell to it. The word "missing" is stamped across his smiling face. I take my seat, [audio clip- FS: Alex come on up to the stage and we'll start a discussion. (applause)] and Villanueva joins me, next to McDonnell's empty chair. He's wearing a dark suit, white shirt, striped tie. His hair is close cropped and flecked with gray. He holds up the "missing" sign and grins as people take pictures. [audio clip-laughter] I lean out of the way. [audio clip- FS: I don't want to be part of anybody's campaign. Oh, sorry.] [music out] If McDonnell was trying to delegitimize Villanueva by not showing up, he clearly failed. In fact, it's Villanueva using this opportunity to embarrass McDonnell.

Frank Stoltze  02:11

[audio clip] I want to start uh, just sort of with a broad question, um and ask you uh, what is the biggest issue in your opinion at the Sheriff's Department?

Sheriff Villanueva  02:24

[audio clip] Biggest issue facing the Sheriff's Department right now is a crisis of leadership.

Frank Stoltze  02:28

It was a crisis of leadership that Villanueva thought only he could fix. [music in] You're listening to Imperfect Paradise: The Sheriff. I'm Frank Stoltze. In this episode, I'm going to show you how a no-name candidate with almost no leadership experience became the head of the largest law enforcement agency west of the Mississippi. And how immediately after taking office, he made a series of outrageous decisions. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  03:02

When Alex Villanueva launched his campaign in front of the East LA Sheriff's Station, hardly anyone was there. I certainly wasn't. So his challenge was to figure out a way to capture voters' attention. And his best chance at that- winning the backing of a few key players in LA County politics. One of those people was Angelica Salas. She runs CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. It's one of the most influential immigrant rights groups in LA.

Frank Stoltze  03:31

So okay, now we're in the office of Angelica Salas, who runs CHIRLA. What's your favorite piece of art in here?

Angelica Salas  03:39

What's my favorite piece of art in here? Well, I love 'em all, as you can tell... [duck under]

Frank Stoltze  03:45

Her office is an altar to the immigrant rights movement. The walls are adorned with photos of marches and art of immigrants at work. Angelica has led CHIRLA for more than two decades.

Angelica Salas  03:56

You know, I am an immigrant from Mexico. I grew up here in Los Angeles, in Pasadena, California, in a home with undocumented parents, myself undocumented. We were able to then legalize our status. So obviously, my work is really an extension of my own personal life.

Frank Stoltze  04:12

Angelica remembers meeting Villanueva for the first time a few months before the primary election.

Angelica Salas  04:18

Oh, he was incredibly polite. [music in] He was also very proud of his ability to speak Spanish- So a little bit of English, a little bit of Spanish as we were having the conversation. You know, just a very open and charismatic individual. He told me the story of him being an officer and what he went through and, and how hard it was actually in the department to advance, especially to advance as a Latino, that he really felt it was important that we had the representation he said that we deserved and most importantly, that we also had a sheriff that understood why immigration was so important. [music fades out]

Frank Stoltze  04:53

Trump had been in office for two years at that point. So this was happening in a certain atmosphere. [AS: Of course.]

Frank Stoltze  05:03

This was 2018- nearly two years into the Trump presidency. And Trump was making good on campaign promises- to let fewer people in, kick more of them out, and make life difficult for those who stayed. That's after the break. [break]

News Anchor  05:22

[audio clip] Hundreds of people are behind bars this morning after a massive crackdown by federal ICE agents.

News Anchor  05:26

[audio clip] Federal ICE agents gave us this video shot during a five-day crackdown in Southern California. They arrested more than 200 people who they say are in the country illegally.

News Anchor  05:36

[audio clip] ICE officials say criminals are still a priority, but that under the Trump Administration's policies, any closed case may be reconsidered, and an immigrant subject to deportation.

Frank Stoltze  05:48

You could really feel the fear across LA's immigrant communities. For a while there, it seemed like ICE agents were being spotted everywhere. I remember getting calls from people who said they thought they'd seen ICE agents in their neighborhood or at the local Seven Eleven. Well before Trump was elected, the Sheriff's Department had been cooperating with ICE. LA County Sheriff's had even given ICE agents an office of their own inside LA jails. That meant nobody got out of jail without ICE being able to know about it. [music in] In 2018, ICE detained nearly 1000 people who were about to be released from jail. Angelica had spent her career trying to persuade successive sheriffs to stop working with ICE. State legislators agreed with her and in 2018, they were considering a law to limit cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. Sheriff McDonnell opposed that. Villanueva supported it. [music out] I heard him say this again and again at the debate I moderated in the fall of 2018.

Sheriff Villanueva  06:52

[audio clip] People afraid to report anything to local law enforcement for fear it's going to involve federal immigration. Federal immigration needs to be handled by federal authorities. Local law enforcement has no business being involved in immigration in any way, shape, or form. I am not going to allow ICE physically be inside the jail system. [clapping] Their physical presence is part of the problem.

Frank Stoltze  07:15

Essentially, Villanueva was saying if he were sheriff, he would remove immigration agents from his jails.

Angelica Salas  07:23

So he clearly understood the history and the key issues that we were trying to confront. And so at that moment, we were like, Okay, well, maybe this is an opportunity for us to change leadership and potentially by changing leadership, change the situation for our community. So that was why the choice was then to endorse Alex Villanueva, for sure. [FS: Sounds like it was obvious.] For us, there was no other choice at that point.

Reporter  07:50

[audio clip] Now, an endorsement from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. The former lieutenant and 30-year veteran of the force says immigrant support could swing the vote his way.

Frank Stoltze  08:05

Villanueva was not only promising to kick ICE out of the jails, he was really doing something that no other candidate for sheriff had ever done in LA. He was placing his Latino identity at the center of his campaign. Mike Madrid is a Republican political consultant and analyst of Latino politics. He told me how Lee Baca, who was Mexican American, ran for sheriff back in 1998.

Mike Madrid  08:30

But he was not running as a Latino candidate. He was not, and he had to play that tricky role that like an Antonio Villaraigosa did when he was running for mayor of Los Angeles his first time, which was basically trying to downplay that Latino identity because the media wanted to talk about a first, "the first Latino Sheriff," and the demographics in Los Angeles County in the mid late 90s did not allow for that kind of leaning into and embracing that identity as much as it does today.

Frank Stoltze  08:58

In the late 90s, LA County was almost half white. Today, it's almost half Latino.

Frank Stoltze  09:16

Mike Madrid told me, it was a good time to be running as a Latino and a Democrat in Los Angeles, and Villanueva knew it.

Mike Madrid  09:25

The Trump era brings in something entirely different, and it was so strong, it was so intense, we actually saw a record turnout of Latinos in the midterms, something that nobody projected.

Frank Stoltze  09:39

In some areas, there was panic and hysteria around migration from Latin America. [music in] Fox News and other right-wing media stoked fear by reporting on caravans of migrants that were coming.

Fox News Anchor  09:50

[audio clip] Tonight in an Ingraham Angle exclusive. We have word that yet another caravan is forming. One of course that our next guest says could be the biggest yet.

Mike Madrid  10:01

Every moment of every day, there was a scare tactic to try to mobilize white rural voters around the country for the midterms.

Frank Stoltze  10:11

Meanwhile, in much of Los Angeles, people were very concerned about immigrant rights.

Mike Madrid  10:16

It was gelling together this multiracial, multigenerational rather, coalition of Hispanic voters that normally were not voting in midterm or low turnout elections, and it catalyzed the historically high turnout, and that was what really propelled the Villanueva candidacy to success. [music out]

Hans Johnson  10:38

It definitely piqued our interest because he was a Democrat, running for this traditionally, conservative and Republican dominated post.

Frank Stoltze  10:47

Hans Johnson leads the largest Democratic club in LA County- the East Area Progressive Democrats. He doesn't usually get involved in sheriff's races, but Villanueva was pretty unusual. He was a proud Democrat running for an office that's been occupied by Republicans for over a century.

Hans Johnson  11:07

There was not cause at that time to poke further into his own specific track record. He was a Democrat.

Frank Stoltze  11:15

The endorsement of the LA County Democratic Party is the best endorsement in town. So Villanueva started making the rounds to grassroots Democratic clubs, asking for their support first. He was laying the groundwork. [music in] He went to the Stonewall Democrats...

Sheriff Villanueva  11:35

[audio clip] ...the last time I spoke that it's been 138 years since the last Democrat was elected sheriff. So if you can help me in any way you can, get out the word, contribute to the campaign...

Frank Stoltze  11:46

...to the Santa Monica chapter...

Frank Stoltze  11:55

...and to the Cerritos chapter.

Sheriff Villanueva  11:58

[audio clip] My values are those, are progressive values or democratic values. I have a deep understanding how we can fix the department. It is a big mess. However, there is hope.

Frank Stoltze  12:07

Villanueva presented himself as a progressive, a reformer, an anti- Trump. Hans Johnson and other party leaders were beginning to get excited. [music out]

Hans Johnson  12:20

The sense of emergency that our club felt was widely internalized by Democrats throughout LA County and beyond in California.

Frank Stoltze  12:29

So Villanueva benefited not only from positioning himself as not McDonnell, more progressive on immigration issues, he benefited from this giant energy around the election itself, the midterms, Trump.

Hans Johnson  12:43

That's exactly right.

Frank Stoltze  12:45

Villanueva did it. He won the endorsement of the full LA County Democratic Party. And immediately the party started working on his behalf. They sent out a mailer. I remember receiving it actually. It juxtaposed a photo of President Trump alongside Sheriff McDonnell. [pause] There was one other key group that helped Villanueva win: the deputies' union. Deputies were unhappy with what they saw as Sheriff McDonnell's unfair discipline policies. Villanueva promised them he would fix that. And so the union gave him their endorsement and spent a million dollars on his campaign.

Announcer  13:24

[audio clip] History is made in the race for LA County Sheriff. Tonight, retired Sheriff's Lieutenant Alex Villanueva has been finally been declared the winner.

Announcer  13:34

[audio clip] Alex Villanueva, a first-time candidate, a surprise winner in a close election battle...

Announcer  13:40

[audio clip] In winning, Villanueva ousted the incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell, a feat that has not been accomplished in more than 100 years.

Sheriff Villanueva  13:47

[audio clip] Well I think uh, what I represented in my platform resonated well with the residents of LA County. And I think I spoke to the heart of matters that was of concern for them. So they wanted to reform the department and they understood that I had the ability to do so.

Frank Stoltze  14:04

Angelica Salas was at Villanueva's headquarters, watching the returns come in.

Angelica Salas  14:09

So when he won, we felt a great sense of possibility for change. Number two, we felt very proud of our own work, because I think we really felt it was an underdog fight and that we were responsible.

Frank Stoltze  14:22

Hans Johnson of the East Area Progressive Democrats was in Eagle Rock.

Hans Johnson  14:26

It showed a blue wave cresting locally here in Los Angeles County, and it showed that our concerns about federal immigration policy and Trumpism were galvanizing to Angelenos across the county. We saw it as a signal of hope against Trumpism.

Frank Stoltze  14:50

I remember being at Villanueva's campaign headquarters when he won.

Sheriff Villanueva  14:54

[audio clip] I just want to give a, an update. We looked at the numbers, we looked at the...

Frank Stoltze  14:58

I was crouched on the floor in front of him and his wife, pointing my microphone at Villanueva's face.

Sheriff Villanueva  15:03

[audio clip] I'm gonna declare this race is over. [applause] We won.

Frank Stoltze  15:14

Take us back four years ago in 2018, and how you felt the night you won.

Sheriff Villanueva  15:19

Well, there was a sense of uh, accomplishment, euphoria that something had never been done before, at least in modern times, had occurred. And a sense of hope that yeah, the you know, the little guy can uh, beat the big guy.

Frank Stoltze  15:32

[music in] So the early days of a new sheriff typically are a honeymoon period. It didn't work out that way for Villanueva.

Max Huntsman  15:45

Politicians are famous for not actually doing what they say they'll do. So you never really know until they sit in the chair, what kind of person they're going to be.

Frank Stoltze  15:53

That's after the break. [music out] [break]

Frank Stoltze  16:07

So I want you to meet Max Huntsman. [audio clip- FS: Are you rolling in there? Fantastic. Okay, and...] He's LA County's Inspector General. He's a former prosecutor who made his career busting corrupt politicians. His current job is to keep an eye on what's going on in the Sheriff's Department. And the idea really, is to prevent something like the jail scandal under former Sheriff Lee Baca from ever happening again. He's supposed to have access to certain department files. And so when Villanueva took office, Max wrote to him about setting that up.

Max Huntsman  16:41

Well, he never responded to our letter. He just ignored us. That was a big red flag. Number one. It made me think, wow, this isn't getting off to a good start. And then we heard a lot of stories internally about this Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what they were doing. And, and they were very concerning.

Frank Stoltze  16:57

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one of Villanueva's campaign promises to the deputies’ union. [music in] He appropriated the words "Truth and Reconciliation" from places like South Africa, Argentina, and Rwanda, that have convened national commissions to bring the country together after horrible human rights abuses. Villanueva told deputies he would set up this panel to bring back people he thought were wrongly fired.

Max Huntsman  17:24

The Mandoyan case was the Sheriff's first case. And we heard a lot about it, and it immediately triggered responses, and it was solid enough that you could find out pretty quickly, something is horribly wrong here.

Frank Stoltze  17:38

If you've heard anything about Sheriff Villanueva, you've probably heard the name "Mandoyan." And if you haven't, here's what you need to know: Caren Carl Mandoyan and Villanueva met back in the summer of 2018. That's when Mandoyan volunteered for his campaign. And the two kind of took a liking to each other and Mandoyan became Villanueva's personal driver during the campaign. But Mandoyan had this troubled history with the Sheriff's Department. According to a report Max Huntsman later wrote, Mandoyan's trouble with the department started two years earlier. An ex-girlfriend, who happened to be a fellow deputy, said he was abusive. He hit her and grabbed her by the neck and sent harassing text messages. The deputy recorded a video of Mandoyan trying to break into her home, which was later made public. [music out]

Audio Clip  18:32

[Mandoyan's ex-girlfriend] Get the (bleep) out of my house. Get the (bleep) out, Caren. Get the (bleep) out. Get out! Stop, dude! Get out of my house! I'm calling the cops.

Frank Stoltze  18:46

Mandoyan is bent over, trying to wedge open a sliding glass door with a metal tool. Later, he tries to break into her bathroom window as she yells at him to stop. [audio clip: Get out! Stop, dude! Get out of my house! I'm calling the cops.] The District Attorney declined to press charges. The Sheriff's Department did an internal affairs investigation, and later determined that Mandoyan had lied to them. Former Sheriff McDonnell ended up firing him for the lying and for the abuse allegations. Mandoyan was in the process of appealing his firing when he began hanging out with candidate Alex Villanueva. Villanueva came to believe Mandoyan got a raw deal from McDonnell, just like he believed the department had wronged him all those years ago by not promoting him and retaliating against him. If you watch the recording of Villanueva's inauguration, you'll see Mandoyan on stage, [audio clip- woman: Raise your right hand...] standing right next to him.

Audio Clip  19:44

[woman: I, Alex Villanueva...] [AV: I, Alex Villanueva...]

Frank Stoltze  19:49

Mandoyan is holding a polished wooden box of brass stars that the Sheriff is pinning to the uniforms of his new commanders. Three weeks later, Mandoyan would have his old job back. Villanueva re-instated him.

Kathryn Barger  20:03

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. And then I thought, well, you know, I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt.

Frank Stoltze  20:07

Among the five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors, Kathryn Barger is the most pro-law enforcement. Her husband is a retired sheriff's deputy. Barger, and the deputies' union are tight. [music in] But bringing back Mandoyan- that was too much.

Kathryn Barger  20:23

And I think it spoke volumes to the lack of judgment in choosing that to be one of the first things you do, is bring back someone who was fired for inappropriate behavior against a woman. Oh, by the way, a fellow deputy, no less. Okay, no less.

Frank Stoltze  20:42

What were you thinking when you're looking at--

Kathryn Barger  20:44

I was angry. I was angry. I was angry. I was angry because to even have to debate or even try to convince someone that a sheriff's deputy that was terminated for inappropriate behavior against a fellow deputy that he was in relationship with- Why would you want that person wearing a badge?

Frank Stoltze  21:07

A few weeks after he hired Mandoyan, Villanueva was asked to appear before the Board of Supervisors. They wanted him to explain what was going on with his Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The whole board of supervisors saw it as a problem. Here's supervisor Sheila Kuehl. [music out]

Sheila Kuehl  21:24

I'm really worried and concerned about the message that is being sent in terms of reinstating deputies who have been accused and found to have committed excessive violence or domestic violence. Every employee of LA County is an employee of this board. And it is not the case that any department head in my opinion, including the Sheriff, though you're independently elected, can simply do anything they want. None of us is so independent that we can do anything we damn well, please.

News Anchor  22:01

[audio clip] It's the supervisors versus the Sheriff.

News Anchor  22:04

[audio clip] Yeah, the LA County Board of Supervisors is taking on Sheriff Alex Villanueva over his decision to rehire a deputy who had been fired.

Frank Stoltze  22:13

Just a few months into Villanueva's term, the Board of Supervisors sued him- sued their own sheriff. I'd never heard of that ever happening before. Villanueva refused to back down. Here he is in August 2019, just after the lawsuit was announced.

Sheriff Villanueva  22:29

[audio clip] The facts are- this case is about five people, five powerful LA County supervisors who are suing the sheriff because they insist the sheriff cannot hire or fire employees, even though I was elected by the voters to run this department.

Frank Stoltze  22:45

We have to talk about of course, Carl Mandoyan a little bit, [AV: Uh huh.] right. I guess the question is, do you have any regrets about that?

Sheriff Villanueva  22:53

The timing? Yes. I think the timing could have been better for sure. Because one thing that I did not know walking in- that as a brand-new sheriff, Latino, I had no credibility whatsoever for the political establishment. I was a suspect day one.

Frank Stoltze  23:06

Wait a minute, you are endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Sheriff Villanueva  23:09

Political establishment in the Democratic Party are not necessarily the same thing.

Frank Stoltze  23:09

And it does kind of feel like the reason you rehired him is that he was, he was loyal to you.

Sheriff Villanueva  23:20

Nope. Not at all.

Frank Stoltze  23:23

In our interview earlier this summer, Villanueva told me there were actually a bunch of deputies helping on his campaign who had previously been fired by Jim McDonnell.

Sheriff Villanueva  23:33

And I told this to every single one of them. The only thing I can guarantee you are two things- There'll be a new department. You'll have a chance to have your case reviewed. Hence the birth of the Truth and Reconciliation process.

Frank Stoltze  23:44

A judge sided with the supervisors in their lawsuit against the Sheriff and told Villanueva to order Mandoyan to turn in his badge and gun. Villanueva told me he was suspicious of the judge's decision.

Sheriff Villanueva  23:56

And that same judge six month earlier gave her preliminary uh, ruling that it was okay. And then overnight, he did a 180 on his, on his own opinion.

Frank Stoltze  24:07

Well, that's what- [AV: Why?] That's how it works, Sheriff. I mean, they're [SV: Well...] preliminary opinions and then sometimes the, the the [SV: But the facts-] final opinion isn't the same thing. That's why it's preliminary.

Sheriff Villanueva  24:16

Facts didn't change at all.

Frank Stoltze  24:17

What are you saying about that judge, though?

Sheriff Villanueva  24:19

You really gotta go outside of LA County to get a real neutral opinion on on law.

Frank Stoltze  24:25

You think somebody's got to him?

Sheriff Villanueva  24:27

I'd- I can't say.

Frank Stoltze  24:30

Villanueva seemed to be implying that there were political forces at work behind the scenes. He also felt like he was being punished by the Board of Supervisors, who he thought had been against him from the beginning. After all, four of the five supervisors had endorsed his opponent, Jim McDonnell.

Sheriff Villanueva  24:48

I think uh, McDonnell was a a favorite son of the Board of Supervisors. And he, he was endorsed by them. They do not like independent sheriffs.

Frank Stoltze  25:03

So while the Board of Supervisors' lawsuit was going on, Max Huntsman opened his own investigation into the re-hiring of Carl Mandoyan. And he found out that it was worse than he thought. Villanueva had tried to bring back Mandoyan even before he became sheriff. The LA Times reported that a week before Villanueva's inauguration, his chief of staff made an unusual request. He asked a high ranking official in the McDonnell administration to alter Mandoyan's disciplinary record and reinstate him. The idea was that it would not look like Villanueva had done it. When Max Huntsman finished his report, he sent a draft over to the Sheriff before he released it publicly, something Max always does. And the next thing he knew, his normal computer access to department records was cut off. Now Max and his staff would have to go to sheriff's headquarters to use their computers while sheriff's officials monitored them. And they were not allowed to download anything. They could only take notes. Max told me he assumed it was retaliation, and he went to see Villanueva. He left his office above the Grand Central Market and walked over to the sheriff's headquarters. Villanueva was waiting for him in his office.

Frank Stoltze  26:22

Was he yelling at you? What was he doing?

Max Huntsman  26:24

No, he was just sitting there talking. He doesn't, he's not a, a man who waves his hands and rants and raves. He, his words might sound like ranting and raving, but he tends to not get too fired up. And he said, I want to talk about you to this report of yours. So we talked about the report. He said, Your report is wrong. And I said, Well, it's not wrong. It, it's all documented. And yet he said, No, no, Max. You're biased. Your report's biased. You're a political hack. You're hired by the board just to mess with me.

Frank Stoltze  26:53

Going into the meeting, Max was pretty sure the Sheriff had no intention of giving back access to the department's databases. Now, he was positive.

Max Huntsman  27:03

And in the course of that, that's when he made the blackmail attempt.

Frank Stoltze  27:07

In my interview with Villanueva, the Sheriff denied blackmailing Max.

Max Huntsman  27:12

He didn't say that. He didn't flat out say that. What he said was, with quotations around it, If you do this, there will be consequences. And he said it like it was significant. [music in] I knew I was being threatened. That was pretty clear. But what exactly it was he was gonna do to me was unclear.

Frank Stoltze  27:28

It became clear two months later, when Villanueva's undersheriff announced the department was opening a criminal investigation into Max Huntsman. The alleged crime? Illegally downloading Villanueva's and others’ personnel files.

Frank Stoltze  27:43

Max Huntsman says that after he gave you his draft report on what went down with Mandoyan, you tried to blackmail him by telling him that if he released the report to the public, you might have to investigate him for possibly illegally accessing personnel files. What's your response to that?

Sheriff Villanueva  28:02

If it comes out of Max Huntsman, you can discard it. A man with zero credibility.

Frank Stoltze  28:07

This wasn't the only time I'd hear Villanueva respond to an accusation by trying to discredit the person making it. In fact, later, he would accuse Max of being a Holocaust denier. He never produced any evidence. Since becoming sheriff, Villanueva has opened or threatened to open criminal investigations into multiple people.

Frank Stoltze  28:32

What did you do when you got home to your wife?

Max Huntsman  28:34

I, I don't recall but my wife was not happy about the news, and it has had a rather negative impact on our, our household because having to worry about whether or not the Sheriff's gonna bust in and arrest you or conduct a search warrant of your house is stressful. And that danger that somebody who is not trustworthy is in control of the largest law enforcement agency around and has the power of life and death over you, is now targeting you for political purposes and over something that is clearly not illegal- The idea that that makes you the target of a criminal investigation is very scary.

Frank Stoltze  29:17

The Mandoyan scandal happened just a few weeks into Villanueva's term. It might have been a one off, but soon it would become clear that it was not.

Frank Stoltze  29:27

My question is basic. It's: Do you think deputy gangs are a problem in the Sheriff's Department?

Sheriff Villanueva  29:31

I think it's a problem of perception more than reality.

Frank Stoltze  29:36

That's next time on Imperfect Paradise: The Sheriff. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  29:52

[credits music] Imperfect Paradise is a production of LAist Studios. This episode was written and reported by a bunch of us, and hosted by me, Frank Stoltze. Our senior producer is Emily Guerin. Marina Peña is our producer, and Francisco Aviles-Pino is our associate producer. Editing by Meg Cramer and Paul Glickman. Fact checking by Caitlin Antonios. Mixing by E. Scott Kelly. Original music by J. Valle. Bruno Lopez-Vega is our intern. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the executive producers for LAist Studios. Our website LAist.com is designed by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at LAist Studios. The marketing team of LAist Studios created our branding. Thanks to the team at KPCC and LAist Studios including Megan Garvey, Tony Marcano, Taylor Coffman, Sabir Brara, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Andy Orozco, Michael Cosentino, Donald Paz, and thanks to our VP, Shana Naomi Krochmal. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This podcast was made possible with support from the Committee for Greater LA in partnership with the Weingart Foundation. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. [music out]