L.A. prosecutors say recording of racist City Hall conversation was a crime but refer case to city attorney

A two-story commercial building
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor building at the intersection of James M. Wood Boulevard and Lake Street in Los Angeles.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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A crime was committed by at least one former employee of the L.A. County Federation of Labor in connection with the recording of a racist conversation that rocked City Hall, according to L.A. County prosecutors.

But the prosecutors declined to file felony charges, and it will now be up to City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto’s office whether to charge the employees with misdemeanors, according to a memo made public late Friday.

In the memo, which explains their decision, prosecutors said Santos Leon and Karla Vasquez lived at a residence tied to an internet service provider address that was in turn linked to an email account associated with social media posts that highlighted the audio, according to the memo.


Leon and Vasquez are married and worked at the labor federation.

The covert recording captured racist and derogatory remarks during a 2021 conversation at the labor federation’s offices between City Council President Nury Martinez, Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and labor federation boss Ron Hererra.

Martinez, Cedillo and Hererra have all since left those roles.

According to the memo, dated April 26, Los Angeles police brought a case to prosecutors in January, requesting that they charge Vasquez and Leon with illegally recording a conversation and wiretapping. Recording conversations without a person’s consent is illegal under California law, with rare exceptions.

Search warrants were served at Vasquez and Leon’s Eagle Rock home last July.

According to the memo, the LAPD investigation found that between Sept. 19 and Oct. 6, 2022, the recording was posted on Reddit and then amplified on Twitter by accounts that had been recently created. Both accounts were connected to a Gmail handle “,” which police then linked to the IP address at Vasquez and Leon’s home.

While prosecutors determined that “a crime was committed by one or both of these individuals,” police could not determine how the audio was made, identify a device used to make it or determine who uploaded it to Reddit.

“Neither suspect was willing to provide a statement and each are represented by separate counsel,” the memo stated.


The memo states that the LAPD recommended charges over the Oct. 18, 2021, conversation involving Herrera and the council members and a Sept. 30, 2022 phone call with Herrera and another individual that involved wiretapped communications.

Last year, The Times reported that a forensic investigator hired by the Federation of Labor discovered sound-editing software on Leon’s computer and turned the findings over to police.

Neither Vasquez or Leon spoke to investigators, according to the memo.

“Neither suspect has any criminal history and similar charges have not been pursued by our office as felonies in the absence of such history or other counts relating to fraud or corruption,” prosecutors wrote of their decision to refer the case to the city attorney’s office.

The city attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Quite frankly, a referral to the City Attorney’s office is not surprising,” Vasquez’s attorneys, Michael Goldstein and Hagop Kuyumjian, said in a statement. “Our position has always been, and remains, that Ms. Vasquez has not committed any crime associated with the leaked recordings.”

Leon’s attorney, Bob Schwartz, said his client was “very relieved and gratified.”

“This was never felony conduct,” said Schwartz. “He is denying that he did anything wrong.”

Leon was placed on leave by the federation last year, and it was not immediately clear whether he was still employed by it.


The leak of the 2021 conversation effectively ended Martinez’s political career and sparked Herrera’s resignation. Cedillo lost his bid for reelection to current Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez before the release of the recording, and De León is now locked in a tough November runoff as he seeks reelection.