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UPDATE: 6 sheriff's personnel convicted in federal obstruction case

Posted: July 1, 2014 3:34 p.m.
Updated: July 1, 2014 6:14 p.m.
 

A Sheriff’s Department lieutenant who lives in Santa Clarita was among six sworn officers found guilty Tuesday of obstruction of justice for interfering with a federal civil rights investigation at the Men’s Central Jail.

Lt. Stephen Leavins, 52, of Valencia proved a central figure during the month-long trial as prosecutors questioned him for three days with a focus on his role as head of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs section.

On Tuesday, a jury in the downtown Los Angeles federal courthouse determined the six defendants, including another lieutenant along with Leavins, tried to influence witnesses, threatened an FBI agent with arrest and concealed an FBI informant who should have been turned over to federal authorities.

While he was on the witness stand, Leavins maintained he was doing his job investigating deputies and protecting an FBI informant — not trying to obstruct the FBI’s probe.

Leavins, who has lived in Valencia for more than 20 years, and four of the other defendants were relieved of duty without pay in December 2013; a sixth defendant retired.

Federal prison
All six of the defendants were convicted of participating in a broad conspiracy to obstruct justice, a plot that began in the summer of 2011 after they learned that a jail inmate was an FBI informant and was cooperating with a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations at the jail, prosecutors said.

All six defendants face statutory maximum sentences of 15 years in federal prison.

“The deputy sheriffs found guilty today participated in a scheme to thwart a federal grand jury investigation into violations of basic constitutional rights guaranteed to both prisoners and visitors to county jails,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. during a news conference Tuesday on the steps of the courthouse.

“Our civil rights investigation exposed criminal conduct and a toxic culture within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” Birotte said.

Convicted
The other defendants convicted Tuesday are:

• Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant who oversaw LASD’s Operation Safe Jails Program;

• Gerard Smith, 42, a deputy who was assigned to the Operation Safe Jails Program;

• Mickey Manzo, 34, a deputy who was assigned to the Operation Safe Jails Program;

• Scott Craig, 50, a sergeant who was assigned to the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau;

• Maricela Long, 46, a sergeant who assigned to the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.

The evidence presented at trial showed the defendants learned an inmate received a cellular phone from a deputy sheriff who took a bribe and that the inmate was part of a federal civil rights investigation.

The deputies took affirmative steps to hide the informant from the FBI and the United States Marshals Service, which was attempting to bring the inmate into federal custody pursuant to an order issued by a federal judge.

As part of the conspiracy, records were altered to make it appear as if the informant had been released, but he was re-booked under different names.

The sworn personnel also engaged in witness tampering by attempting to influence witnesses to not cooperate with the federal grand jury investigation, including the informant and the sheriff’s deputy who had taken a bribe to smuggle the cell phone into the jail.

Sentencing
All six sworn personnel were convicted of obstruction of justice offenses. Craig and Long were also found guilty of making false statements to an FBI agent and to her supervisor about seeking a warrant for her arrest.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 8 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson.

jholt@signalscv.com
661-287-5527
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

 

 

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