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Further indictments forthcoming in federal investigation of LA County jails?

Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time in a federal investigation of county jails.
January 24, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Seven sheriff's deputies have been indicted on charges they hid an inmate turned confidential informant from the FBI and then threatened the informant's FBI handlers. But who ordered the operation? Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time. How far up the chain of command could those indictments go?

Sheriff Baca says his sudden retirement has nothing to do with the FBI investigation into his department. The question is who knew what, and when?

Sources within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department tell Eyewitness News that Sheriff Baca and his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were both involved in the operation to hide the FBI informant.

That informant was asked by the FBI to report on possible abuse and corruption within the jails. The scheme became known as "Operation Pandora's Box."

It all began in the summer of 2011 inside Men's Central Jail, when inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown's cover was blown. Brown, a convicted armed robber, was caught with a contraband cellphone smuggled in by a sheriff's deputy. Investigators quickly realized that Brown was using that phone to call the FBI.

What happened next is what led to seven of those indictments by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

"They took affirmative steps to hide the informant from everyone, including the FBI," said Birotte in a news conference on December 9, 2013.

Brown was moved -- allegedly hidden -- for 18 days. His name was changed, records were altered and destroyed.

"These allegations are breathtaking in their brazenness," said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. County jails.

"It's hard for me to imagine that such a scheme took place without knowledge and authorization of the highest levels of the department," said Eliasberg.

At the December 9 news conference, a reporter asked: "So you're saying that whatever happened transpired without the knowledge of the Sheriff of Los Angeles County?"

"I'm not saying that," said Steve Martinez, assistant director of the FBI Los Angeles office.

Birotte's comments last month clearly left open the possibility of more indictments.

So what did they know, and when did they know it? In previous interviews, we found some clues.

"I got a phone call from the sheriff on my cellphone and he was very upset," Tanaka said in May 2013.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka sat down with me in May for a lengthy interview and detailed what he says the sheriff did right after the phone was discovered.

"He said, 'I want you to make sure that thing is locked up, and that thing is not going anywhere. Period. And I want that inmate interviewed and I don't want him to go anywhere,'" said Tanaka. "And then the sheriff personally convened a meeting for Saturday morning at 9 o'clock, and there were about 12 to 15 of us in the room where he gave orders exactly as to how he wanted the investigation to be done."

What unfolded over the next seven weeks will be crucial to determining who else could be indicted.

Baca's calendars indicate that on Friday, August 19, Baca and then-undersheriff Tanaka both met with Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau Captain Tom Carey and Lieutenant Greg Thompson. Thompson is one of the seven indicted in the Anthony Brown case.

Over the next six weeks, according to the indictment, Brown was hidden, his name was changed, witnesses were intimidated, records were falsified and Brown's two FBI handlers were surveilled.

One of those FBI handlers was allegedly confronted outside her home by two of those indicted -- sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long -- and threatened with arrest.

"The sergeants falsely threatened the special agent with arrest," said Birotte in December.

According to the indictment, that confrontation outside the FBI agent's home took place on September 26.

The very next day, Sheriff Baca met with Birotte and the FBI. Eyewitness News caught up with Baca on that day after the meeting. And even then, more than seven weeks after the phone was found, Baca continued to maintain that the FBI was acting illegally.

"The phone is the FBI's phone," said Baca at the time. "There's no doubt about that. And the FBI is not denying it. And the fact that the phone came in is against the law."

And even in the days after Baca's meeting with the feds, surveillance of the FBI agents continued, according to the indictment.

Sources directly involved with the Anthony Brown operation tell Eyewitness News that they had a special meeting at Hero's Park just outside Men's Central Jail.

Among those in the meeting were three deputies who were indicted: Lieutenant Greg Thompson and deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo. In this meeting, Thompson told the group that he had just come from a meeting with Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka. And he clarified with this group that their mission was to keep Brown hidden from the feds.

I asked Tanaka in that May 2013 interview if he witnessed anything on Baca's part that could have been inappropriate or illegal.

"I didn't view it as illegal at the time. What I viewed it as is -- he wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on," said Tanaka.

Tanaka told me he was "out of the loop" on the Brown operation.

"So at that point, I'm basically out of the loop, because now he's communicating directly to the captain and the lieutenant of the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau," said Tanaka.

Baca was asked in December if Tanaka was out of the loop.

"Absolutely not. Mr. Tanaka was fully in the loop -- in fact more in the loop than even me," Baca said.

Rumors are rampant in the department that more indictments could come down at any time.

"I'm not afraid of reality. I'm only afraid of people that don't tell the truth," Baca said on January 7 when he announced his retirement.

Eyewitness News has also learned that the confrontation between those two sergeants and the FBI agent was recorded, both audio and video. That's sure to be a crucial bit of evidence.

Lieutenants Greg Thompson, Steve Leavins; sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long; and deputies Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo and James Sexton have all pleaded not guilty.

Trial is scheduled for May 13.


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