The photo surfaced three weeks ago at the bottom of a federal indictment that charged some small time Los Angeles area politicians with taking bribes.
It featured a woman in a nightclub wearing a short dress, brandishing a pair of handguns and proudly showing off a shiny, official-looking badge on her chest.
Now the photo has become a serious embarrassment for the sheriff of Los Angeles County, whose department has been handing out hundreds of such badges to local politicians for years.
The Los Angeles Times reported late Tuesday that Sheriff Lee Baca has begun asking for the badges back in the wake of the photo’s release. His office is asking about 200 officials in 40 cities to give up their souvenirs.
The picture appeared in the indictments of two councilmen and a longtime official in the town of Cudahy.
Prosecutors alleged the three men took part in a scheme to accept bribes in exchange for letting a marijuana dispensary set up shop inside the town, which covers an area of only about one square mile in Los Angeles County.
The indictment said the photo of the unidentified woman was taken on March 24 inside the El Portrero nightclub in Cudahy, where councilman Osvaldo Conde was meeting with a confidential informant who was working with the FBI.
The councilman ordered bottle service for the table and the woman drank with them. At some point, according to the indictment, he gave the woman his badge and revolver. A bodyguard who was with them gave the woman his gun, too. Armed and surrounded by a crowd, she posed for the camera.
In another photo included in the indictment, Conde could seen standing next to the same woman in the nightclub. He is expected to plead not guilty at his arraignment on July 19.
The Los Angeles Times reported other local politicians have had problems with their badges in recent years. The newspaper ran a series exposing the practice in 2007, including that political donors to the Riverside County sheriff received badges and flashed them during encounters with law enforcement.
The series prompted Gov. Jerry Brown, who was the state’s attorney general at the time, to warn the state’s law enforcement to abandon the practice. Some agencies quickly got rid of the badges, the newspaper reported, but Baca’s office was just getting around to it now.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com