Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s captain charged with obstructing a federal probe into corruption in the county jails pleaded guilty Wednesday to a lesser charge.

William “Tom” Carey, 57, entered his plea to lying on the witness stand during last year’s trial of former Deputy James Sexton, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for trying to obstruct the jails investigation, according to the plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court.

In exchange for his plea and cooperation, Carey — the highest-ranking official to be convicted in the ongoing jail probe — can expect to receive a reduced prison sentence of not more than 16 months, according to the document. The remaining charges against him are to be dropped.

However, the maximum possible penalty when he goes before the judge for sentencing on Jan. 25 is five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

“Yes, your honor,” Carey responded when asked by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson if he had indeed lied under oath to jurors during the Sexton trial.

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Carey and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka were charged in May with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. Carey was also charged with two counts of lying on the witness stand last year during the trials of other defendants.

Carey was head of the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, tasked to “root out the very corruption” charged in the federal probe, then-acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said in May.

Tanaka, who, like Carey, testified for the defense at three trials stemming from the federal probe, “ran the day-to-day operations” of the sheriff’s department, she said.

“They knew there was rampant inmate abuse” and “did not want the FBI and federal investigators to know,” Yonekura said.

According to the indictment, the defendants were well aware of “problem deputies” at the jails but told guards to work in a quasi-legal “gray area.”

Tanaka and Carey were the eighth and ninth sheriff’s department officials to face criminal charges connected to actions taken in August 2011, when inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown was hidden from his FBI handlers. Brown was booked and re-booked under a series of false names and eventually told the FBI had abandoned him, prosecutors said.

A half-dozen former department officials — two lieutenants, two sergeants and two deputies — were convicted in 2014 for their roles in the cover-up and received federal prison sentences ranging from 21 to 41 months.

Stephen Leavins, Gregory Thompson, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith “endeavored to obstruct justice in a misguided attempt” to protect the sheriff’s department from outside scrutiny, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said before sentencing them.

“Blind obedience to a corrupt culture has serious consequences,” the judge said.

All claimed they had been following orders in assisting a legitimate investigation into how and why a cell phone had been smuggled into a jail. But Anderson said an “us-versus-them” mentality had been inculcated into them and into jailers and internal investigators alike.

The FBI was investigating claims of excessive force against inmates by sheriff’s department jailers and had intended to have Brown testify before a grand jury.

Brown is suing Los Angeles County, former Sheriff Lee Baca, Tanaka, Carey and the deputies convicted last year on obstruction of justice charges.

The federal lawsuit seeks damages for cruel and unusual punishment, municipal and supervisory liability, failure to provide adequate medical care, retaliation and civil conspiracy.

Baca has not been charged in the jails probe, although testimony has placed him at some of the meetings where sheriff’s officials discussed moving Brown throughout the jail system in an apparent attempt to keep him from federal investigators.

Carey remains free on bond pending his sentencing hearing.

—City News Service

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