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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.

 

 

Comments

AdamTwelve: Posted: August 27, 2014 1:18 a.m.

Reads more like it was an FBI screw-up of an op, than obstruction of justice. Losing their informant in jail, no doubt he was sleazy, then smuggling cell phones, jesus h. christ.


Unreal: Posted: August 27, 2014 10:54 a.m.

I am so glad this guy is not able to game the system anymore. Time for him to spend some time in the jails he was supposed to be making "safe". What a piece of work.

Thank you to the FBI for helping protect our citizens, even those who end up in jail (some innocent and awaiting court) and are vulnerable to this type of abuse. I do not love the feds most of the time, but sometimes they get it right. This is one of those times

This kind of officer or deputy is a disgrace to the force and heaps shame on all those officers and deputies who are working hard to do a good honest job.


DMeyer: Posted: August 27, 2014 11:33 a.m.

This case is problematic, I wouldn't be surprised to see this turned around in an appeals court. The FBI broke the law when they smuggled a phone into the jail system, the deputies broke the law when they played hide the scumbag from the Feds. The deputies were doing so at the behest of the top tier supervisors of the their department. How come Baca and Tanaka were not brought up on charges?


chefgirl358: Posted: August 27, 2014 11:56 a.m.

Agree COMPLETELY with DMeyer.

The deps on trial were following orders, it was the LASD TOP head honchos that should have been held accountable for this...

However, the FBI themselves actually broke laws by smuggling a cell phone into a jail, along with DRUGS, they smuggled DRUGS into a jail. There are tremendous problems with this case and it was really just a big ugly grudge match between the two agencies. The whole thing should have been thrown out of court and saved us the money of prosecuting such a pile of crap. It's a very poor case.


LosRubios: Posted: August 27, 2014 12:11 p.m.

I suppose it depends on whether you feel that concealing a cell phone or concealing a human being is more of a crime. I haven't seen any campaigners for cellphone rights, but there are plenty for civil rights. I suspect the FBI were already aware of problems with LASD's behavior and that the cell phone was a necessary step to prove their case. In the end LASD helped the FBI immensely by handling the situation in the way they did. And it wouldn't be the first time a cell phone has made it into a jail illicitly.


Unreal: Posted: August 27, 2014 2:05 p.m.

If the company I work for was being investigated by the FBI and they ordered me to hide papers or persons from the FBI and lie about I would be horrified and would not comply. I would know this was illegal.

Lois Lerner felt she could destroy evidence and lie to investigators too.
This type of CYA needs to be prosecuted and well as the underlying issues of abuse of power and violence against prisoners.


Unreal: Posted: August 27, 2014 2:13 p.m.

I am not sure if the FBI broke any law with the cell phone. I am sure they were able to show cause for a wiretap and I bet providing this cell phone was allowed. There has to be some ability for the FBI to investigate these type of issues in a system where EVERYONE is covering each other's ass.

Thanks FBI in this instance for looking out for the public.


AdamTwelve: Posted: August 27, 2014 3:25 p.m.

The ops/investigation was screwed up, first because they relied too much on local law enforcement, where the default has always been to treat them like mushrooms...

Now for the "abuse" in county jails, the ends justify the means, the number of jail deputy attacks is unheard of in any other county jails, which is next to zero. Even when compared to state prison system, there's less prison officer attacks. So in that regard County Jail is doing something right, keeping its officers safe, by ruling with an iron hand.

To all the rejoinders, how would you run an overcrowded, violent, under funded, county jail. I'm talking to you Unreal...


Krissyball: Posted: August 27, 2014 3:31 p.m.

Protect and serve... themselves.


Krissyball: Posted: August 27, 2014 4:13 p.m.

And don't start hating me for my comment. I'm ONLY talking about the bad cops. I respect and admire the good ones, and I know they are out there truly protecting and serving. It's the bad cops that are ruining the reputations of all police officers. Not just here in the SCV but all over the country.


michaelmyers1: Posted: August 27, 2014 4:29 p.m.

He should get what he deserves. And that is time behind bars.
Serve your time, get out, and start over....


Unreal: Posted: August 27, 2014 4:55 p.m.

If you become a law breaker to run the jails than what makes you better than those incarcerated?

I guess nothing since these jokers now have to go spend time in the fine jails they helped run. No big deal since they are so safe right?


Unreal: Posted: August 27, 2014 5:03 p.m.

AdamTwelve: I have dated a couple cops in my time. One LAPD street cop and one detective. Both had great attitudes toward their jobs and respect for the law. Neither of them wanted anything to do with crooked cops. Don't tell me that they can't do their job without breaking the law. That is a crock.
They are thugs who should never have gotten onto the force in the first place. --edited.


AdamTwelve: Posted: August 27, 2014 5:51 p.m.

Unreal:

To be sure, the above aren't the rank and file, these guys are convicted for obstruction.

No doubt there is abuse and misconduct, that's why these guys above are there.

As for the question to you, I wasn't asking for your dating preference, no doubt they stopped dating you because of your leftist leanings, how more would they speak their minds and share their thoughts to you regarding these matters,

so your having dated cops is inadmissible here.

How would you do it, Unreal? An overcrowded, violent, under funded, county jail.


chefgirl358: Posted: August 27, 2014 6:13 p.m.

Unreal,

bringing a cell phone into a jail in the state of CA is a crime and the FBI actually had a bunch of posters made up to state that fact and helped push the legislation. They did not have a warrant or a phone tap, they smuggled a cell phone to a filthy inmate. I have followed that story on several websites for the past year or so. The folks at LASD definitely made some bad judgment calls, based on the orders of the top brass, which they could not defy without getting fired or transferred to Farawayland on graveyard shift for the rest of their careers.

However, the FBI dropped the ball in a number of ways, violated their OWN policies and state laws just to push this grudge match (which is all this really is) into a nasty trial. It's pure vindictiveness and nothing more.


Unreal: Posted: August 28, 2014 11:36 a.m.

I am a Republican who leans Libertarian not a liberal. Being a Christian I can't agree with all Libertarian stances. I do want to have all levels of Government kept in check.

The court has found that the FBI case was valid twice now with this ruling denying having the verdict overturned so it seems that however the evidence was found the court feels the verdict should stand and that they are guilty.

As for how I would run the jails, I would follow the law. Period. If the Sheriff's Dept. is unable to do that we can always outsource to private companies to run the jails. It would save money.

It would be better if the deputies on our streets did not receive their training in the jails. It is one reason why when some of them start to patrol our city streets they treat our community youth and others as they did the prison population.


chefgirl358: Posted: August 28, 2014 12:26 p.m.

Unreal,

Sexton wasn't found guilty, he had a hung jury. His retrial begins next month.

Well since you would follow the law, shouldn't that include the FBI following the law as well? I'm not saying LASD hasn't made colossal errors and doesn't have a few bad eggs that deserve to be punished, but certainly the two wrongs don't make a right thing applies here with the FBI and they should not have broken laws and done scandalous things in pursuit of LASD.

I truly DO believe that this is 99% grudge match between the two agencies and they should not have wasted tons of time and taxpayer money in pursuing these cases as criminal trials. The FBI should have focused on pursuing the people who gave the orders and orchestrated this whole scheme...the top brass at LASD.


AdamTwelve: Posted: August 28, 2014 1:39 p.m.

Unreal:

Well you do have a very good point about starting out your policing career in the jail system.

As for the jails, they do follow the law that's the irony here, these were the deputies assigned to keep tabs on the "jailer" deputies.

They played a balancing role, 1). rule with an iron hand 2). make sure it doesn't go too far. And from the looks of it, they did their jobs. The FBI's butthurt they didn't completely kowtow to them, which no local LE should ever do, because these guys, especially the feebs who handle civil rights cases, are lost in space.


Unreal: Posted: August 28, 2014 4:21 p.m.

If they think they have a case against the FBI then they should bring it.
I don't think authorities should be allowed to over reach in any area.

I still think that Stephen Leavins (who the story was about chefgirl) should have to deal with the consequences of the crime he WAS found guilty of.


chefgirl358: Posted: August 28, 2014 5:10 p.m.

Unreal,

I don't believe they should have been found guilty. I don't believe it was obstruction when they were obstructing an investigation being illegally conducted by the FBI. I get that a jury felt differently and that's fine.

I think where LASD DID mess up is that they should have arrested the FBI agent at her home when they went there to put pressure on her. They should have arrested her and taken it to the d.a. for a criminal filing. It would have at least given credence to their position instead of playing all of these silly cloak and dagger games. Don't you see, BOTH agencies over reached, which is why the whole thing should be a wash. It was truly just a grudge match and nothing more. These charges are really silly low level crap, they didn't even file anything really serious on anybody like violating civil rights by abusing inmates or anything, they just trumped up a bunch of silly nonsense.


DMeyer: Posted: August 28, 2014 8:44 p.m.

@Unreal

"As for how I would run the jails, I would follow the law. Period."

And if someone broke the law by smuggling a cell phone into the jails you run would you really "follow the law"?

Wake up Unreal, the FBI broke the law. Remember Ruby Ridge? But for you I guess it's alright if the Feds break the law.....


Unreal: Posted: August 29, 2014 1:29 p.m.

DMeyer: Are you kidding me? Is it so hard to figure out how to follow the law? If someone brought a phone into the jail then charge them. If the DA files against them great. If not, get over it. You do not move a human being around under false names and lie to federal authorities. Geesh, you guys will bend your own sense of right and wrong which you are always expounding to protect these guys. Talk about hypocrites.


DMeyer: Posted: August 29, 2014 4:04 p.m.

Sorry Unreal but the *hypocrisy* lies solely with the FBI in this instance. The FBI *broke the law* when they smuggled the cell phone into the jail and provided it to a known dirtbag. Or is that not against *your* sense of right and wrong?

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=04001-05000&file=4570-4576

Now, is it really so hard for the FBI to follow the law too? Why you want to defend the FBI after they clearly broke the law is interesting. Are you saying it is ok for some law enforcement agencies to break the law but it's not ok for other agencies to do so?

Talk about being a hypocrite!


DMeyer: Posted: August 29, 2014 4:07 p.m.

"If someone brought a phone into the jail then charge them."

Ok, I may have missed your point, are you saying the FBI agents who smuggled the phone into the jail should be charged with a crime?



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