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Valencia man convicted in FBI case loses bid to have verdict overturned

Posted: August 26, 2014 6:02 p.m.
Updated: August 26, 2014 6:02 p.m.
 

A Santa Clarita Valley man and former Sheriff’s Department lieutenant asked for a new trial this week in his conviction on obstruction of justice charges, but a federal judge denied his request, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman said Tuesday.

Stephen Leavins, 52, of Valencia was among six sworn officers found guilty earlier this year of obstruction of justice for interfering with am FBI civil rights investigation at the Men’s Central Jail.

Through his attorney, Leavins asked a federal judge Monday to dismiss the guilty verdicts against him and schedule a new trial.

The judge denied the motion, said U.S. Attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek, and set a date of Sept. 8 for Leavins’ sentencing.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of five years for Leavins, who has lived in Valencia for more than 20 years.

Leavins was a central figure during the month-long trial as prosecutors questioned him for three days, focusing on his role as head of the Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs section.

In July a jury in the downtown Los Angeles federal courthouse determined the six defendants, including Leavins and another lieutenant, 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 and four of the other defendants were relieved of duty without pay in December 2013; a sixth defendant retired.

All six of the defendants were convicted of participating in a broad conspiracy to obstruct justice, a plot that began during summer 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.

The other defendants convicted July 1 were:

• 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 cellphone into the jail.

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.

All six officials were scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 8.

 

 

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