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Politics

Woman suing California Rep. Tony Cardenas over sexual misconduct asks for House ethics inquiry

House Energy and Commerce Committee
Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles)
(Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call Inc.)

A woman suing Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) for an alleged sexual assault when she was a teenager publicly identified herself for the first time Monday and is asking the House to open an ethics investigation.

Angela Villela Chavez, 28, made the accusation against Cardenas in May, alleging that he groped her in 2007 while driving her to the hospital after she collapsed while playing golf with the congressman.

Cardenas has denied the allegations and said Chavez is being coerced by her father, a disgruntled former employee. The Times has been unable to corroborate any of her allegations.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has determined that there is enough merit to move forward. The trial is set to begin in August.

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Chavez’s lawyers said in a statement that she was inspired to make her name public following Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The Times, which typically does not name women who make accusations of sexual assault, previously had not identified Chavez by name.

Chavez formally requested an investigation through the Office of Congressional Ethics last month as Congress was winding to a close for the year. Her lawyers said Monday that they have received no response yet to that request.

Anyone can request an ethics investigation into a member of Congress, but few such requests lead to action on Capitol Hill. The Office of Congressional Ethics, which is tasked with identifying whether a claim has enough merit to warrant a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee, can take months to determine whether an allegation should move forward.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in May that the committee should investigate, and Cardenas said he was anxious to comply with investigators and clear his name.

Cardenas’ lawyer Patricia Glaser said in a statement that the call for a congressional investigation is a sign of weakness in Chavez’s suit.

“The lawyer’s decision now to request an ethics investigation speaks volumes to their meritless and weak case. Their sensationalizing the plaintiff’s false charges is a transparent effort to gain leverage through public relations, not the merits of plaintiff’s allegations, which are being litigated in court,” she said.

Chavez is the daughter of Gus Villela, who worked as a political aide to Cardenas when Cardenas served on the Los Angeles City Council and then as a staffer in the congressman’s San Fernando Valley district office. He left that position in June 2014. The two families were once close and appear to have had a falling out.

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon said in an interview with The Times last year that Villlela approached him in 2016, promising to provide negative information about Cardenas in exchange for a job with Alarcon’s campaign. Alarcon, who was running against Cardenas in the congressional Democratic primary for the Los Angeles district, said he refused the offer and reported the meeting to the FBI.

Chavez said in an earlier court filing that she waited years to come forward in part because the congressman provided help to her and her family — including free golf coaching, tournament fees, stays at “lavish resorts” where tournaments were held and rent for a San Fernando home.

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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sarah.wire@latimes.com

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