LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California's attorney general on Tuesday took over a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigation into allegations of political corruption against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl over contracts awarded to a nonprofit organization run by one of Kuehl's closest friends.
The state Department of Justice asked the nation's largest sheriff's department to stop its probe and hand over its evidence in the case.
The letter signed by Attorney General Rob Bonta states the sheriff's department "should cease its investigative activity and refrain from any actions in furtherance of these investigations, including public statements or court filings related to the investigations."
Sheriff Alex Villanueva had reached out to the Attorney General's Office last week asking it to investigate allegations that county Inspector General Max Huntsman and the county counsel's office had tipped off Kuehl to a planned search of her home by sheriff's deputies.
In Tuesday's letter responding to that request, Bonta wrote that his office would look into those allegations, but he said since that matter is directly tied to the underlying investigation into Kuehl, Metro, Kuehl's close friend Patricia Giggans and Giggans' nonprofit group Peace Over Violence, he would take over that probe as well.
"Given that Sheriff Villanueva has recused himself from the underlying investigation of Peace Over Violence and Patricia Giggans, and by seeking our assistance he recognizes that he should be recused from any related matters, I believe that the handling of all these matters by DOJ (Department of Justice) will be in the public interest," Bonta wrote. "Therefore, we will assume all responsibility for the underlying investigation of Peace Over Violence, Patricia Giggans, et al."
Loyola Law professor Jessica Levinson spoke with Eyewitness News about how this may still be an issue.
"Rob Bonta is also going to be looking at who leaked the information that there would be a search to Sheila Kuehl," she said.
For more than a year, the sheriff's department has been investigating some $800,000 in contracts awarded by the county's Metropolitan Transportation Authority to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit organization. The group's executive director and CEO is Patricia Giggans, a friend of Kuehl.
LASD has said it was looking into whether Kuehl was improperly involved in obtaining contracts for the group.
Kuehl is a fierce critic of Villanueva and has called for his resignation. She appointed Giggans to serve on the Civilian Oversight Commission that monitors the sheriff's department.
Both have denied wrongdoing in regard to the contracts.
Kuehl has blasted the probe as a retaliatory action by Villaneuva, who has repeatedly clashed with the Board of Supervisors over budget and policy issues, while rebuffing subpoenas to appear before the county's Civilian Oversight Commission.
Last week, sheriff's deputies searched county offices and the homes of Kuehl and Giggans.
Shortly before Bonta's letter to the sheriff's department assuming control of the investigation became public, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a ruling blocking sheriff's investigators from searching any computers seized from Kuehl or Metro during last week's raids. The ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan mirrored one he issued last week blocking any search of computers taken from the Metro OIG's office.
Eyewitness News asked Bonta about the overall investigation at an event in San Francisco, saying the state has "a role to play when it's in the interest of the public."
As the evidence and reports get turned over to the state, attorneys for Kuehl and Giggans continue to try to convince a judge that the entire investigation is baseless.
Levinson insists all of these accusations could be true.
"It could be the sheriff would never have pursued this if he was investigating somebody who's a political ally," she said. "He could have said, 'Just drop it.' It could also be that with respect to Sheila Kuehl and Patti Giggans, there was at least enough there to obtain a search warrant."
The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.