Precursor to lawsuit accuses department of ‘minutes fraud’
COMPTON — City officials announced they intend to file a claim against Los Angeles County and Sheriff Alex Villanueva during a press conference held in front of City Hall May 26. The claim alleges the county is failing to provide adequate law enforcement services to the city’s nearly 100,000 residents.
The city has retained the law firm of Douglas/Hicks Law APC, and will file the requisite claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in accordance with state law.
“Douglas/Hicks Law is filing a claim for damages for multiple millions of dollars against the county of Los Angeles on behalf of the city of Compton,” said attorney Jamon Hicks in a written statement. “The claim alleges the county defrauded the city of Compton concerning the use of ‘annual minutes’ for which the city has contracted to pay [the Sheriff’s Department] in exchange for crime suppression cars and deputies on the street,” the statement continued.
The city is alleging the Sheriff’s Department has bilked the city out of millions of dollars by falsely reporting the amount of time deputies spend patrolling the city.
The city claims the minutes fraud has resulted in major understaffing at the Compton Sheriff’s Station, a lack of responsiveness to calls for service and increased crime and danger to the public.
“We will fight hard for the good people of Compton, seeking to recover money stolen from them … by the County,” Hicks said.
The claim centers around allegations made by a whistleblower that the Sheriff’s Department was committing “minutes fraud”.
“The allegation is that the county is paid 20-plus millions of dollars to patrol these streets, to make sure the streets are safe, to make sure the residents are safe,” Hicks said. “When in actuality, what is happening is fraudulent billing. What that means is that we have deputies that are saying they’re at locations that they’re not at. And we have deputies that are saying they’re patrolling the streets … when they are not. Or that they’re doing what’s called excessive billing, including overtime fraud. All of that is to the detriment of the city.”
Sheriff Alex Villanueva dismissed the allegations.
“We have about 45 contracts and we measure the minutes, and there’s a rate — we have to get close to 100%, either slightly above or slightly below,” Villanueva said. “If we’re missing that target, I don’t think it’s going to be the grand conspiracy that the outgoing mayor of Compton wants it to be.
“But we’ll definitely take the allegation seriously, and we are already doing a thorough audit on it, and we’ll take action based on the results of that. Nothing unusual there. But to call it a fraud, that might be a little bit of a stretch.”
Compton Mayor Aja Brown said the allegations were “confirmed by a whistleblower, a deputy sheriff at the Compton Station.”
“The result is a major under-staffing at Compton Station, lack of responsiveness to calls for service and increased crime and danger to our community,” Brown said.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a public battle between Brown and Sheriff Villanueva.
Brown has publicly declared deputies are “terrorizing” the city’s residents, including her family.
Brown was pulled over in mid 2019 and described what she called a “traumatic” event.
“My family was pulled over by Compton deputies for proceeding forward and not stopping at the limit line,” Brown said. “My rights were violated and I was disrespected by deputies with no knowledge or respect for Compton residents.”
Brown said the deputies asked to search her car for drugs to which she claimed “she doesn’t look like someone who is trafficking drugs” especially with her husband and young daughter in the car with her.
Brown explained her husband filmed the incident and residents urged her to release the footage.
Sheriff Villanueva took part in a community town hall stating the mayor was uncooperative and refused to provide the video to aid in their investigation.
The mayor’s campaign forms show she accepted a $1,500 contribution from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff’s (ALADS) union weeks after the incident.
Residents have mixed reaction to the claim and the timing of its filing.
“I wonder how the lawsuit will negatively affect the services from deputies,” Angela Lewis said. “They haven’t been responsive to the calls from the residents for a long while.”
“Compton pays the same dollar amount for services as Lynwood and other neighboring cities while Compton receives less services and manpower,” Charmaine Hays said, “although we know this is retaliation from Mayor Brown being pulled over.”
“Compton needs to do everything possible to get our ‘fair share’ of every dollar and service we are entitled to,” said James Hays, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor this year. “Our own audit of [Sheriff’s Department] services and expenditures should have led to this years ago. We actually have lawyers and accountants working in City Hall.”
The city attorney said the city’s five-year contract with the Sheriff’s Department began in 2019, beginning at $22 million a year, with annual increases during the life of the contract.
Villanueva noted that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the court system was closed down, “we flooded all of the patrol stations with extra personnel.”
“We went way beyond the 100% compliance with all of the contracts,” he said. “Didn’t get a single complaint from a single one that we were not complying with the contract, strangely.”
Residents will elect a new mayor June 1 and candidates Emma Sharif and Christian Reynaga have not made any public comments on the claim filed by the city.
Mayor Brown’s last day in office is June 30 and it will be up to the incoming council to continue pressing forward on the issue.
City News Service also contributed to this story.