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[KHTS] – A federal judge sentenced a Valencia man found guilty of witness tampering in an FBI investigation to 41 months in prison Monday.

Lt. Stephen Leavins, 52, of Valencia, was facing a statutory maximum of 15 years in federal prison, along with his five co-defendants.

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 acting as a cooperator in a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations at the jail, according to federal prosecutors.

“Blind obedience to a corrupt culture has serious consequences,” Judge Anderson told the defendants before ordering each of them to begin prison sentences in the coming months.

“In their corrupt attempt to shield the Sheriff’s Department from scrutiny, these deputies brought scandal and shame to themselves and their department. These deputies decided to impede a federal investigation, and in doing so they threw away their careers and their freedom,” said acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “These law enforcement officers have now been held accountable for their unlawful actions.”

 

U.S. Attorney’s Office, December 2013:

 

fbi_logoUnited States v. Thompson, et al., CR13-819

This six-count indictment that alleges a broad conspiracy to obstruct justice charges seven sworn members of the LASD. This case developed when deputies assigned to the Men’s Central Jail—including Lieutenant Gregory Thompson, who oversaw LASD’s Operation Safe Jails Program, and Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, who was assigned to the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau—learned that an inmate was an FBI informant and was acting as a cooperator in the FBI’s corruption and civil rights investigation.

After learning that the inmate received a cellular phone from a deputy sheriff who took a bribe and that the inmate was part of a civil rights investigation, those allegedly involved in the obstruction scheme took affirmative steps to hide the cooperator from the FBI and the United States Marshals Service, which was attempting to bring the inmate to testify before a federal grand jury in response to an order issued by a federal judge. As part of the conspiracy, the deputies allegedly altered records to make it appear that the cooperator had been released. They then re-booked the inmate under a different name and then told the cooperator that he had been abandoned by the FBI.

Over the course of several weeks, the deputy sheriffs allegedly also attempted to obtain 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, according to the indictment, two LASD sergeants who are charged in this case nevertheless confronted an FBI special agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her into providing details about the investigation. The sergeants falsely told the special agent and her supervisor that they were obtaining a warrant for her arrest, according to the indictment.

Thompson no longer works for LASD. The other deputies named in this indictment are Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, and James Sexton, who were assigned to the Operation Safe Jails Program; and Scott Craig and Maricella Long, who were LASD sergeants within the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.

This case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth A. Rhodes of the Central District of California, and Margaret Carter of the Civil Rights and Public Corruption Section.

 

July 2014:

 

Federal Jury Convicts Six Current and Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies of Obstructing Federal Civil Rights Investigation

U.S. Attorney’s Office July 01, 2014
  • Central District of California (213) 894-2434

LOS ANGELES—Six sworn officers who were working in the Los Angeles 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. A federal jury determined that the defendants, including two lieutenants, attempted to influence witnesses, threatened an FBI agent with arrest and concealed an FBI informant who should have been turned over to federal authorities.

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 acting as a cooperator in a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations at the jail.

“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. “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.” “Law enforcement at all levels must work together to arrive at justice and to safeguard the civil rights of all the people we serve,” said Bill L. Lewis, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Today’s verdict is another step toward ending a period of corruption at the Men’s Central Jail for the good of the public, as well as the employees of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who have continued to serve with distinction while enduring this temporary stain on the department’s reputation.”

The defendants convicted today are:

  • Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant who oversaw LASD’s Operation Safe Jails Program;
  • Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, 52, who was assigned to the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau;
  • 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).

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

Thompson is retired. The rest of the defendants, according to the Sheriff’s Department, were relieved of duty without pay in December 2013.

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