A federal jury found six former Sheriff’s Department officials, including a lieutenant from Valencia, guilty Tuesday, on charges they threatened witnesses in an FBI investigation into the department.
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Lt. Stephen Leavins, 52, of Valencia, is facing a statutory maximum of 15 years in federal prison when he’s due back for sentencing, along with his five co-defendants, on Sept. 8.
“Six sworn officers who were working in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were found guilty today of obstruction of justice for interfering with a federal civil rights investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail,” according to an Attorney General’s Office statement.
“The (sheriff’s deputies) 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. “While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting on the false belief that they were above the law.”
Leavins was relieved of duty on Dec. 9 with pay, and then without pay Feb. 7, according to Sheriff’s Department officials. The trial began May 22.
Lee Baca, the department’s leader for more than 15 years and a 48-year member of the department, abruptly resigned less than a month after the allegations came to light.
The defendants convicted today are: Leavins, who was assigned to the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau; 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; and Maricela Long, 46, a sergeant who assigned to the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.
The evidence presented at trial showed that the defendants learned that 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 cooperator 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 cooperator had been released, but he was re-booked under different names.
The deputies 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.
Over the course of several weeks, the defendants sought an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to LASD.
After the judge refused to issue such an order, based on a lack of jurisdiction, Craig and Long confronted an FBI special agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her into providing details about the investigation and to try to deter the FBI from conducting the federal investigation. The sergeants falsely told the special agent, and later her supervisor, that they were obtaining a warrant for her arrest.
In addition to the conspiracy count, all six deputies were convicted of obstruction of justice offenses. Craig and Long were also found guilty of making false statements to the FBI agent and to her supervisor about seeking a warrant for her arrest.
As a result of today’s convictions, all six defendants face statutory maximum sentences of 15 years in federal prison, with Craig and Long facing another potential five years for the false statements charges.
From an earlier KHTS Santa Clarita news story:
Leavins was convicted on two counts: Count 1 is a conspiracy charge, and count 3 is an obstruction charge, which carry maximum penalties of five and 10 years, respectively.
Count 1 of the indictment filed Nov. 20 accused Leavins of taking part in an effort to hide a federal informant, referred to in court documents as Inmate AB, from FBI special agents.
The alleged illegal activity began in August of 2011, when a deputy reportedly found a cellphone in an inmate’s possession, which is illegal Deputies later determined the inmate was using the phone to contact federal agents, according to an account of the incident in Los Angeles Magazine.
Inmate AB was cooperating with FBI special agents who were attempting to investigate accusations of corruption in the Los Angeles County jail system, which is overseen by the Sheriff’s Department.
Count 3 alleged Leavins “corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice by: a) hiding inmate AB from the FBI, US. Marshall Service and the federal grand jury; b) convincing and attempting to convince witnesses not to cooperate with the FBI; and c) authorizing and directing LASD Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long to approach Special Agent LM outside of her home in an attempt to cause the FBI to disclose the nature and extent of the federal investigation.”
A jury was unable to reach a verdict Thursday in a six-count corruption case against one of seven Sheriff’s Department officials accused in the alleged conspiracy and obstruction of a federal investigation.
The Sheriff’s Department officials were tried separately due to evidentiary concerns, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.
However, all seven were charged in connection with an alleged criminal conspiracy accusing the deputies of trying it coerce and silence federal witnesses against the Sheriff’s Department in a jail-abuse investigation by the FBI.
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Source: Santa Clarita News