LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Lieutenant Steve Leavins took the witness stand Thursday in the federal trial of six deputy sheriffs accused of obstructing an FBI investigation into the Los Angeles County jails.
Leavins is a defendant in the case and played a key role in the power struggle that played out in the summer of 2011 between the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the FBI.
Leavins and his co-defendants are accused of hiding Anthony Brown, an inmate who was recruited by the FBI to gather evidence about possible corruption and abuse inside Men's Central Jail. FBI agents set up an undercover sting, with Brown bribing a deputy to smuggle a contraband cell phone into jail for him to use behind bars. The undercover operation fell apart when the phone was discovered about two weeks later.
Leavins took the stand Thursday afternoon and told jurors about his 30-year career in the LASD. Leavins started as a deputy at Men's Central Jail before working his way up through the ranks, including stints in narcotics, homicide and major crimes. In 2010, Leavins worked as an aide to then Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka, who is also a "subject" of this ongoing federal investigation.
Previous testimony in this trial indicated that Leavins played an important role in the operation, briefing both Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka on a regular basis.
The central argument from defense attorneys is that the defendants moved Brown and changed his name to protect him from possible retaliation because he'd been labeled a "snitch."
Prosecutors contend that Brown was hidden to keep him away from his FBI handlers and to prevent him from testifying before a federal grand jury.
Leavins will resume his testimony on Friday morning. Co-defendant Sgt. Scott Craig is also expected to take the stand in his own defense. Sgt. Maricela Long may also take the stand, although a final decision seems to be up in the air.
Craig and Long are each facing an additional charge of making false statements to the FBI. Both admitted in previous grand jury testimony that they knew it was a lie when they told FBI Agent Leah Marx she was a named suspect in a felony complaint and that they were in the process of swearing out a warrant for her arrest.
All six defendants have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.