LA deputy James Sexton corruption trial: 1st witness takes the stand

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Trial begins: deputy accused of hiding inmate
A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy is on trial facing federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy is on trial facing federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The prosecution called its first witness on Wednesday.

James Sexton, 29, is the lowest ranking deputy accused in the L.A. County jail scandal. But he's pivotal in the prosecution's conspiracy and corruption case.

Three years on the job and his bosses at Men's Central Jail needed his help to hide Anthony Brown, an inmate and career criminal who deputies learned was operating as a spy for the FBI, seeking information about beatings and civil -rights violations.

In court, FBI Special Agent Leah Marx described evidence of a cover-up. Jurors heard sheriff's audio recordings as Brown explained why he turned informant.

Agent Marx says Brown identified a deputy who solicited bribes. The FBI conducted an undercover sting, paying the deputy $1,500 to deliver a cellphone to Brown behind bars. The goal was to see if there was corrupt deputy to take the bait and to allow Brown to report any abuse in real time.

Because of jail security, deputies soon found the phone and learned it was the feds who owned it.

Deputies told investigators that Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, now running for sheriff was livid, cursing and swearing that then-Sheriff Lee Baca was beyond angry.

Prosecutors say that the FBI had informed the Sheriff's Department that the federal grand jury was investigating jail activity, but did not disclose its undercover operation.

Prosecutors say jail supervisors needed Sexton because he could create "smoke and mirrors" in the sheriff's database. Prosecutors say that Sexton changed Brown's name to aliases so that the FBI could not find their informant.

Agent Marx says one email indicated that Tanaka was to personally approve anyone coming to visit Brown, but that in a revision Tanaka's name was removed. Furthermore, the email indicated that if there was a writ - a federal court order to produce Brown - that a county attorney would have to review it first, an attorney who would be on vacation.

Sexton says he was only following orders.

Six other deputies will be tried separately.

Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka were never charged.