LA County Sheriff's corruption trial: 6 defendants guilty on all counts

ByMiriam Hernandez and Lisa Bartley via KABC logo
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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Six Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department personnel were found guilty on six counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in a federal trial on Tuesday.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Guilty verdicts -- across the board. Six Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials -- deputies, sergeants and lieutenants -- were all found guilty Tuesday of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The two sergeants were also found guilty of making false statements for lying to the FBI.

Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Lieutenant Steve Leavins, Sergeant Craig Long, Sergeant Maricela Long, Deputy Gerard Smith and Deputy Mickey Manzo spent a collective 120-years plus as sworn law enforcement officers. Now, they are convicted felons facing a maximum sentence of 15-20 years in federal prison.

"These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies. Instead these defendants took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses. That conduct is simply unacceptable," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte told a crowd of reporters after the verdict on the steps of the federal courthouse.

One by one, the clerk read off guilty verdicts for each of the six counts and each of the six defendants. The defendants looked grim, but stoic. Several family members of the defendants broke down in tears.

Outside court, a juror who only gave his first name as "Ron" told Eyewitness News it was clear to the jury that all six defendants broke the law.

"The FBI was in their house, and they were trying to find out what happened and it went a little too far," said Ron.

The guilty verdicts are the culmination of an FBI investigation into abuse and corruption at the Los Angeles County jails, which are run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

In the summer of 2011, the FBI conducted an undercover operation inside Men's Central Jail, smuggling a phone into inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown. A corrupt jail deputy, Gilbert Michel, took a bribe from an undercover FBI agent to bring the contraband cellphone into Brown, a career criminal who had just been sentenced to 423 years to life in prison.

Brown was supposed to use the cell phone to document any possible abuse by deputies and to report to his FBI handlers in real-time. But the phone was found a few weeks later, setting off a chain of events that led to the indictments of seven deputy sheriffs.

Over three weeks of testimony, prosecutors told jurors that once the defendants learned the FBI was investigating "their house," they tried to obstruct the federal investigation. The defendants hid inmate Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, the U.S. Marshals Service and a federal grand jury by moving him to different locations and booking him under false names and without fingerprints. The defendants also tampered with witnesses by telling Brown the FBI had "abandoned" him, and ordering Deputy Gilbert Michel to not talk to the FBI.

"There wasn't one smoking gun, it was all of the evidence put together that painted a very clear picture for this jury of what the verdict should be," said juror Stephen Bonfoey.

One key piece of evidence shown to jurors was a video of Sgt. Craig Long and Sgt. Maricela Long confronting lead FBI agent Leah Marx outside her home in early September 2011. On the video, Sgt. Craig tells 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" for Marx. Sgt. Long later repeated the statements to Marx's FBI supervisor. Craig and Long both admitted in previous grand jury testimony they knew the statements were untrue.

"So what are we supposed to do, ignore it? You know? I mean they said it," said juror Ron.

The defendants and their attorneys told jurors they were only following orders from top brass in the LASD, including then-Sheriff Lee Baca and then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Tanaka, who is running to be the next sheriff, has been named by prosecutors as a "subject" of their ongoing investigation into obstruction of justice.

The big question now? Will prosecutors take their investigation further up the LASD chain-of-command? Will Baca or Tanaka be indicted?

"It's like the judge said in court, that's for another jury to decide for another day. That's not for us to decide. We just ruled on the facts with these particular defendants and that's it," said juror Bonfoey.

Former Sheriff Lee Baca was not called as a witness in this trial. Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka did testify, and told jurors the LASD had a right to conduct its own lawful investigation.

Juror "Ron" said that at some point, the defendants should have known to back off from investigating the FBI.

"You know, a lot of people could have called it off. It could have come from the top or you could have called it off as individuals once you knew you were breaking the law," said Ron.

Alternate juror Claire Chang says she would have found the defendants guilty as well. She believes the "brass" should also see their day in court.

"I just think they should go through the same trial that these defendants did," said Chang.

Juror "Ron" told Eyewitness News he feels good about the verdict, but believes the defendants are all good people -- they simply took their investigation too far.

"It don't feel good to have to work with someone, to do something like this. But we had to do what was right and it was unanimous," said Ron.

The trial of a seventh deputy, James Sexton, ended in with a mistrial in May with jurors split 6-6. Prosecutors are expected to announce on Monday if they intend to retry Sexton.

Sentencing for the six defendants found guilty on Tuesday is scheduled for September 8th.