LA Sheriff's Department trial: Orders to hide inmate came from top

ByRudabeh Shahbazi and Lisa Bartley via KABC logo
Saturday, June 14, 2014
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Los Angeles Sheriff's Lieutenant Steve Leavins continued his testimony Friday, telling jurors that he was following orders from Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Hiding an informant, intimidating witnesses and threatening an FBI agent with arrest. Those are the accusations against six Los Angeles sheriff's deputies, sergeants and lieutenants.

Among those accused is Lieutenant Steve Leavins, who provided his second day of testimony Friday, telling jurors he was following direct orders from Sheriff Lee Baca and second-in-command Paul Tanaka to keep inmate Anthony Brown safe.

Top brass at the department discovered Brown was an FBI informant gathering evidence of abuse and corruption inside Men's Central Jail. Sentenced to 423 years to life in prison for armed robberies, Brown was using a smuggled cell phone to feed information to the FBI from behind bars in an undercover operation.

In summer 2011, Baca told a group of LASD executives and investigators to look into how the phone ended up in the jail and to safeguard Brown from possible backlash, Leavins said.

The next day, Leavins interviewed Brown, who said he feared for his life after his role as an informant was revealed. Brown also falsely claimed that the FBI helped smuggle drugs into the jail.

The radical claims made it difficult for investigators to decipher fact from fiction, Leavins said.

Leavins made the decision to move Brown from Men's Central Jail to a station jail in San Dimas for his safety, which Baca, Tanaka and Capt. Tom Carey authorized, Leavins said.

Leavins also consulted with two county attorneys, Mike Gennaco and Paul Yoshinaga, on multiple occasions. They voiced no objections to the operation, he said.

In one meeting, Gennaco said "the FBI is going to be in trouble for smuggling that phone in," Leavins testified.

Former federal prosecutor Miriam Aroni Krinsky, who has been following the trial, questioned the motivation for those orders. Was it truly to keep Anthony Brown safe from corrupt deputies at Men's Central Jail who might view him as a snitch? Or was it to hide Brown from his FBI handlers?

"Whether they went beyond those orders, whether those were lawful orders will be up to the jury to decide," Krinsky said.

Prosecutors pointed out Brown was moved back to Men's Central Jail only after he agreed to stop cooperating with the FBI.

Threatening an FBI agent

Baca and Tanaka also authorized surveillance of Brown's FBI handler Leah Marx and signed off on a plan to confront the agent outside her home, Leavins said. The investigation was intended to determine her role in the undercover FBI operation to smuggle Brown a cell phone.

In September 2011, Sgts. Scott Craig and Maricela Long confronted Marx outside her home and threatened her with arrest, claiming she was being named a suspect in a felony complaint. Both have previously admitted in a grand jury testimony that they lied.

Leavins told jurors that Craig and Long were not instructed to arrest Marx.

Prosecutors have emphasized that by law FBI agents cannot be arrested or prosecuted for acts committed within the scope of their duties. Defense attorneys, however, have claimed that the defendants still weren't sure if Marx was possibly a "rogue" agent, conducting an off-the-books investigation.

Leavins noted that in an August 2011 meeting with Baca and Tanaka, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte allegedly told the sheriff's department to "butt out" of the FBI's investigation, signifying their knowledge of a sanctioned probe.

Leavins is expected to return to the witness stand on Tuesday.