Six former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for scheming to foil a federal probe into deputy violence against inmates in county jails.
Prosecutors are seeking federal prison terms ranging from 28 months to five years for Stephen Leavins, Gregory Thompson, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo.
The six were found guilty July 1 of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, charges which together carry a potential maximum sentence of 15 years behind bars.
The jury found that the defendants conspired to transfer and rebook a jail inmate — who was working as a federal informant — in an effort to hide him from his FBI handlers when agents wanted to put him in front of a grand jury to testify about allegations of excessive force against inmates.
Defense attorneys countered that the ex-deputies were simply following orders from superiors.
A seventh former deputy, James Sexton, was convicted last week in a separate trial and will be sentenced in December.
The six defendants schemed to “silence the witness,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maggie Carter told the jury. “Even if this was standard operating procedure, this was a federal investigation and they had the intent to commit obstruction of justice.”
The defense unsuccessfully argued that the county employees were merely following orders from then-Sheriff Lee Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka when informant Anthony Brown was moved to various cells within the Men’s Central Jail downtown, then to a Temple City sheriff’s station, and finally to a San Dimas substation, where he was kept under 24-hour guard, during August and September 2011.
Tanaka testified that while he didn’t give the order to change Brown’s name or booking number, he didn’t object. Tanaka also said that he was kept fully apprised of Brown’s status.
Brown became an issue for jail guards when an FBI cell phone was found in his possession on Aug. 8, 2011, and sheriff’s officials realized that the inmate was cooperating in a federal probe they previously knew nothing about.
The phone was smuggled into the jail by a corrupt deputy in exchange for cash provided by the FBI. The deputy eventually pleaded guilty to federal charges and is awaiting sentencing.
When Craig and Long determined who at the FBI’s Los Angeles office was in charge of the cell phone operation, they embarked on a plan to frighten the agent and discover the extent of the jails investigation.
The two sergeants — who worked for Leavins, a lieutenant who was one of the two highest-ranking defendants in the case — confronted the agent in front of her home, telling her they were planning to arrest her for her involvement in the smuggled cell phone, according to surveillance videotape of the encounter.
The case stems from July 2010, when the FBI began looking into alleged civil rights abuses committed by members of the sheriff’s department within Los Angeles county jails. As part of the investigation, the FBI interviewed prisoners, including Brown, who had been convicted and was awaiting transfer to state prison to serve a life term.
Prisoners had reported significant levels of civil rights abuses, but federal investigators had no way of verifying the reports because they had no access to either deputies or sheriff’s department documents.
Thirteen other deputies charged in the jailhouse corruption probe in February are awaiting trial.
—City News Service