Sgt. Scott Craig takes witness stand in LASD corruption trial

ByLisa Bartley via KABC logo
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Sgt. Scott Craig is one of six LASD personnel accused of obstructing a federal investigation into abuse and corruption in L.A. County jails.
Sgt. Scott Craig is one of six LASD personnel accused of obstructing a federal investigation into abuse and corruption in L.A. County jails.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For the first time, jurors in the LASD corruption trial heard directly from one of two sergeants who threatened to arrest an FBI agent, as tensions between the FBI and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reached an all-time high in the late summer and early fall of 2011.

Sgt. Scott Craig is one of six LASD personnel accused of obstructing a federal investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails. Craig and his partner, Sgt. Maricela Long, are each facing an additional count of lying to the FBI in connection with their threat to arrest FBI Special Agent Leah Marx.

In 2011, the FBI was conducting a secret, undercover operation inside Men's Central Jail, which is run by the Sheriff's Department. But when the LASD found out, they turned the tables, launching their own investigation into the FBI, an investigation that was ordered by then-Sheriff Lee Baca.

Agent Marx became a target because she helped arrange for a cellphone to be smuggled into inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown through a corrupt deputy. Brown was going to use that phone to communicate with his FBI handlers and document possible abuse.

Craig, a 26-year veteran of the department, told jurors Wednesday that he wanted to interview Marx to find out who authorized the cellphone operation. And were there other corrupt deputies still working inside the jails?

Craig says he was concerned that the FBI had thus far not shared whatever information they'd learned about corrupted deputies. He worried that those deputies were still on the job, still working in the jails and possibly engaged in "ongoing active brutality" against inmates.

"It needed to be stopped," Craig testified.

A key moment in the power struggle between the LASD and the FBI came on September 26, 2011, the day sergeants Craig and Long confronted Marx outside her home.

Craig says a surveillance team recorded the encounter because Craig "didn't want the suggestion of or accusations of improprieties." On the video, Craig can be heard telling Marx she is a "named suspect in a felony complaint" and that he is "in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant."

In previous testimony, jurors learned that the confrontation with Marx was pre-approved by then-Sheriff Lee Baca and then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, although there were no orders to arrest the special agent.

Defense attorney Mike Stone asked Craig on Wednesday if he had "any intention of arresting Leah Marx that day?"

Craig replied, "That day? No."

But Craig says he believed he had probable cause to arrest Marx at some point in the future and wanted to impress upon her the "seriousness of what was going to occur."

Sgt. Craig told jurors he didn't know at the time that the Sheriff's Department did not have jurisdiction to investigate or arrest an FBI agent for acts committed within the scope of their duties. Craig testified he learned that only after a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney told him in early October 2011 about a provision of the law known as the "supremacy clause."

On cross-examination, prosecutor Liz Rhodes emphasized that Craig was well aware the FBI was conducting a legitimate, authorized investigation into the jails. Craig knew this because the head of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office had told Sheriff Baca in mid-August that the contraband cell phone discovered inside the jail was an FBI phone, and they wanted it back.

Craig admitted it was "reasonable" to believe Brown was an FBI informant because FBI agents visited him in jail and FBI agents had told Deputy Gilbert Michel he'd been caught taking a bribe in their undercover operation. Michel accepted $1500 to smuggle the phone into Brown and later pleaded guilty to bribery.

Prosecutors say Craig, Long and their boss Lt. Steve Leavins obstructed the FBI investigation in part by making statements to witnesses/suspects Anthony Brown and Gilbert Michel that were designed to discourage their cooperation with the FBI.

Prosecutor Rhodes played audio of an interview conducted by Craig, Long and Leavins, in which Craig can be heard telling Deputy Michel, "Nobody doubts you, no one is saying you're lying, that's the FBI - that's their MO."

Craig said that statement was part of an interview technique meant to build rapport with a suspect and put him at ease.

The recording continues with Craig telling Michel, "I think it's a good chance, I'd say they're trying to manipulate you."

Rhodes asked Craig if that statement could have discouraged Michel's cooperation with the FBI. "Yes, it could," admitted Craig.

In another portion of the recorded interview, Craig can be heard telling Michel that the FBI is "screwing with you", and that the FBI is "going to manipulate you like you are a (expletive) puppet."

Once again, Craig admitted it was "a possibility" that type of statement could discourage Michel's cooperation with the FBI's investigation.

As Michel's interview wrapped up, Craig ordered Michel to not talk to anyone about the investigation, including the FBI. Craig testified Wednesday he said that to "maintain the integrity of the investigation." Craig added that he told Michel it was OK to talk to his attorney or a clergy member.

Prosecutors also contend that Craig and Long discouraged Anthony Brown's continued cooperation with the feds by suggesting to him he'd been "abandoned" by the FBI. Brown's handler, Leah Marx, and two other FBI agents were "kicked out" of Men's Central Jail in late August when they tried to meet with Brown after the contraband cellphone had been discovered. Marx told Brown that day that they'd be back to get him.

In a recorded interview with Brown a few days later, Sgt. Long can be heard saying to Brown, "They haven't come back for you."

After days of indecision, Sgt. Maricela Long's attorney announced on Wednesday that Long will not testify in her own defense. Craig's cross-examination will continue Thursday morning. Closing arguments are expected late Thursday or Friday.