Home>Articles>Curiouser and Curiouser: Gascon’s Aide Charges Raise Troubling Issues

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon. (Photo: da.lacounty.gov)

Curiouser and Curiouser: Gascon’s Aide Charges Raise Troubling Issues

Gascon knew Teran was under investigation when he hired her in 2021, let alone when he promoted her

By Thomas Buckley, April 27, 2024 3:00 pm

Exactly how wormy is the can Attorney General Rob Bonta opened this week when he charged a top aide to Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon with 11 felonies?

Turns out it’s quite wriggly.

The entire affair, said former LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva, stretches back to 2018, a time even before he was in office and could involve an attempt to make sure he stayed out of office and that the personnel information that was allegedly stolen was done so at the behest of other county political powerhouses.

Last week, Gascon’s Ethics and Integrity Assistant District Attorney Diana Teran was charged with 11 felonies by the Attorney General’s office. Considering the close ties between Bonta and Gascon, the very fact that charges were filed roiled the local and state political landscape.  

Teran is alleged to have improperly accessed sheriff’s departments personnel records and then used said information illegally.  All of the counts she was charged with bear the same April, 2021 date, but Teran reportedly obtained the information earlier and the 2021 date may be when she uploaded them in the DA’s office system and/or added it to the “Brady List,” a data base of sketchy officers the office maintains (most prosecutors maintain such a list just in case they have to rely on that officer in court, etc.)

Two theories as to why Bonta charged Teran, unlike his previous decision to pass on charging another Gascon minion. 

First, there is the possibility that the evidence against Teran is so overwhelming that Bonta literally had no choice but to charge. In other words, the case is not a “wobbler” – it’s the real deal.

But Teran’s lawyer, James Spertus, unequivocally stated that Teran did nothing wrong and that she accessed the information literally as part of her job, making the charges legally impossible. 

Second, there is the idea that Bonita charged Teran specifically to signal to Gascon and the rest of the political world that he is politically toxic and has no hope of beating challenger Nathan Hochman in November. The added benefit is that Bonta could then leverage the affair in his upcoming run for governor by being able to tell voters “see, I’m not a woke nut job – I charged her” without having to pay even a dime in potential political penalty because Gascon will be gone by 2026.

Or it could be a combination of the two.

Whatever the reason was, the facts of the case threaten to spill out of the DA’s office, through his already difficult run for re-election, and into other corridors of county power.

In 2018, Teran was the “Constitutional Policing Advisor” for then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell.  According to her LinkedIn account, the job involved:

“… accountability, adherence to best practices, policies, procedures, and operations; provided real-time monitoring, analysis and advice to LASD investigators and executives on pending personnel investigations and disciplinary matters; reviewed investigations for objectivity and thoroughness; and responded to, reviewed, evaluated and provided input on critical incidents including in-custody deaths, deputy-involved shootings and significant force incidents. In 2018, was the first person employed by a Law Enforcement Agency to be awarded a ‘Contribution to Oversight’ award by the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.”

During this time, maintains Villanueva, Teran improperly accessed 23 different deputy personal file, including his own (even though he had retired from the department.)

“She was trying to fire as many cops as she could,” Villanueva said.  “Her nickname was ‘the badge collector.’”

The former sheriff said that each of the deputies that had their privacy illegally invaded had expressed support for his campaign to unseat McDonnell.

“She targeted anyone involved in my campaign,” Villanueva said.

Shortly after Villanueva was elected in the fall of 2018, Teran was dismissed by the new sheriff, though she stayed around the department somewhat by being made “oversight consultant” of the sheriff’s department for the county Office of the Inspector General, headed by Max Huntsman, a former deputy district attorney himself.

After discovering what had allegedly happened, Villanueva launched an investigation into Teran’s conduct, an investigation – due to conflict of interest issues – that ended up with the Attorney General.

That means that Gascon knew Teran was under investigation when he hired her in 2021, let alone when he promoted her to Assistant District Attorney in charge of Ethics and integrity just four months ago.

The other political string the case will tug at involves Huntsman and, potentially, the Board of Supervisors itself.

Villanueva adamantly maintains that Huntsman asked Teran to get the files for overtly political reasons.

“I’ve seen the emails,” Villanueva said.

Why would Huntsman, a supposedly politically-neutral inspector general – think watchdog or ombudsman – want the files?

Because Huntsman does not seem like he really is politically neutral. 

It has been reported   – and the Attorney General is still looking into – that Huntsman tipped off former LA County supervior Sheila Kuehl that her homes was about to be raided by sheriff’s deputies as part of the department’s probe into corruption, including the highly dubious circumstances surrounding Kuehl’s close friend Patricia Giggans and her nonprofit group “Peace Over Violence,” getting a series of no-bid contracts worth a total of more than $800,000 from Metro, the county’s transit arm, to operate a sex-harassment hotline for Metro riders and employees.

The hotline reportedly  received so few calls the cost averaged out to more than $8,000 per call.

The Metro investigation was sparked by an internal whistleblower who questioned a payment on the contract and was told by then Metro CEO Phil Washington to pay the bill so he continue to be in the “good graces” of Kuehl

As part of the investigation, Kuehl’s house was searched early one morning in the fall of 2022.  And it is alleged Huntsman heard about the potential search – which would include looking at her computers and phone records – and called Kuehl the night before to tip her off about what was coming.

The investigation into that affair is also being conducted by Attorney General Bonta’s office and has yet to be resolved.

When asked if he was aware of a claim that he asked her to get the files in 2018, Huntsman responded via email with this:

“I haven’t heard that claim, but I have no comment in any event.”

As to why Bonta charged Teran, Villanueva said he doesn’t know if Bonta is doing so “for the right reasons or for political reasons,” but noted it could also be part of a strategy to get the “bigger fish” potentially involved in the overarching corruption case.

Gascon’s office did not reply to a Friday asking the following:

  • Is Teran still getting paid?
  • Is her removal from her office as referenced in the memo permanent? 
  • Will the DA’s office review the cases she worked on to see if her conduct could cause any issues with those?
  • when exactly did Mr. Gascon become aware of the investigation and, since it was presumably prior to the charges, why did he leave her in such a high and very political position?
  • Was the DA’s office given any “heads up” that the charges were coming? 
  • It is my understanding the date on the charges – April 2021 – was when Teran uploaded information she had previously obtained during her time “with” the sheriff’s department in 2018 – is that correct?
  • The defense is saying she can’t be charged because her actions are literally part of the job – does Mr. Gascon agree?
  • Does the DA’s office have any comment on the report that Teran originally obtained the records at the behest of the county OIG and Max Huntsman specifically and that the records obtained were all of deputies who were supporting former Sheriff’ Villanueva in the 2018 election?
  • Has Mr. Gascon spoken to Mr. Bonta since?

For his part, Gascon’s challenger Hochman – already leading in the polls –  said it appears “Gascon has tripled down” on Teran, despite the historic nature – no one this high up in the DA’s office has ever been charged with a felony before, said Hochman – of the allegations.

“He hasn’t backed away from Teran,” Hochman said on KFI’s The John Kobylt Show Friday afternoon.  “But the process will reveal who knew what and when.”

In other words, this can of worms is very wriggly indeed.

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6 thoughts on “Curiouser and Curiouser: Gascon’s Aide Charges Raise Troubling Issues

  1. Ooooooh, good stuff here. Sheriff Alex Villanueva even makes an appearance, as well as the Mysteriously Disappearing Former L.A. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl slam-dunk case! (we thought) Will have to read it again when I have more leisure to get it ALL straight. I might even memorize it.
    Thanks a million, Thomas Buckley, for covering this.

  2. Good story. And I’m sure there’s more. I suspect everything bad about Bonta’s motive….Why? Because he never does anything that is not politically self-serving.

    As for Gascon, you would think he would lose the upcoming election, but I have a feeling, if it’s close and they “keep counting” long enough he will magically get reelected.

    1. Rod –
      1. YES, and
      2. A Gascon “win” under the impossible odds that exist for him in the upcoming November race would have as an “upside” the exposure of the widespread election cheating that is going on in L.A. County as well as the rest of California. At the very least, a spotlight would again be shone on the very sketchy L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan, who has an on-the-record shady past and who once plied his trade in King County (Seattle), where years ago he had no choice but to resign in disgrace. We don’t know what the outcome of that exposure would be (so we shouldn’t get our hopes up), but the exposure seems inevitable and who knows where that would lead.
      “Dean Logan stole ’04 governor’s race, and he’s at it again in California” (June 2018)

      1. Even if the system is “exposed” by an outlandish result, what will really happen? Few people believe Biden got a record number of 81 million votes in the 2020 election, yet every effort to expose it has been stifled. The only solution seems to be a much higher turnout beyond that the margin of cheating. Call me a doubter….

        1. Rod, don’t blame you at all for doubting. There are so many factors and tentacles to the current sorry situation and so many things that are out of our control. Even when some things are eventually set right, it takes so LONG. As you know. A higher turnout of sensible voters —- if it should happen —- to overcome the cheating seems to be the answer, depending on the method of cheating these skunks may use. So we make sure to vote, we encourage others to be sure to vote, even under the current circumstances. From afar it appears many more people in the county and even the state and country have opened their eyes and are better educated about what’s going on. What the result of that will be given the endless bombardment from our “leadership” to screw us over and flush our country down the toilet we obviously don’t know.

  3. Fascinating.
    I worked many years ago as then-AG John Van de Kamp’s speechwriter and LA press aide. I went back to Oregon where I served 7 terms as the elected DA on the north Oregon coast.
    The stories surrounding Gascon just keep getting weirder. My guess is Bonta simply could not ignore something this grievous. The questions about the suspect’s current status are very valid and if any other DA’s employee was charged with a felony I am confident the best they could hope for would be suspended with pay.
    For historical purposes she IS the highest ranking DA’s employee in LA charged with a felony but in 1967, the chief of the Downey LADA office, Jack Kirschke was arrested, tried and convicted of murdering his wife and lover in a plot that made for a pretty good movie. He was sentenced to life and did (as often happened before truth in sentencing laws) served only 7 years in prison for two first-degree murders.

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