Undercover officers tailing a high-ranking Los Angeles Police Department official witnessed him apparently engaging in sexual activity in a parking lot with a female subordinate, sources with knowledge of the investigation said.
The official, Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas, retired suddenly after the surveillance operation caught him engaging in conduct that sources said may have violated the department’s policy against sexual relationships with lower-ranking officers and also may have ran afoul of a criminal statute prohibiting lewd conduct in public places.
Villegas, a 29-year LAPD veteran, was one of three assistant chiefs who reported directly to Chief Michel Moore.
Villegas did not respond to messages seeking comment. Moore, who became chief in June, declined to comment.
A longtime ally of Moore, Villegas was in charge of the office of support services, where he oversaw budget, training, recruitment and other behind-the-scenes aspects of the 10,000-member police force.
Steve Soboroff, president of the city’s civilian Police Commission, said he received an anonymous letter last month accusing Villegas of misconduct. Soboroff has declined to detail the alleged misconduct but said he referred the letter for further investigation.
The surveillance of Villegas is believed to have begun before Soboroff received the letter. On Oct. 23, commission members were presented with Villegas’ retirement papers.
Villegas left a bar with the woman and got into a car with her, according to several sources.
The undercover officers then witnessed the pair engaging in what appeared to be sexual activity, the sources said. The officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.
Villegas had already been looking to leave the LAPD. He was one of five semifinalists in a nationwide search this year for chief of the Seattle Police Department.
Several senior LAPD officials said Villegas told them he was departing to work on a family business venture. His retirement is supposed to take effect by the end of the year, LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.
The sudden retirement will prove costly to Villegas. He enrolled in the city’s controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan, better known by the acronym DROP, in 2015 and stood to gain nearly $1 million in additional pension funds had he stayed on the job through 2020.
DROP pays Los Angeles police officers and firefighters their salaries and pensions simultaneously during the last five years of their careers.
By retiring early, Villegas will forfeit nearly half of that money.
The LAPD has a long-enshrined policy that requires superiors and subordinates in “the same chain of command” to avoid potential conflicts. The policy notes that when such situations develop, the employees involved must immediately notify their commanding officer.
Under California law, lewd conduct in a public place is a misdemeanor. Inside a vehicle, there must be a likelihood that the activities can be seen by onlookers.
The surveillance of Villegas was conducted by the LAPD’s highly secretive Special Operations Division, which, among other duties, conducts internal affairs investigations of police officers suspected of criminal activity.
In 2009, Villegas filed for divorce from his wife, a sergeant in the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division. The divorce was never finalized, and court filings make no mention of any alleged improprieties by Villegas. The two are still married.