Exclusive: ABC7 Eyewitness News obtains evidence against Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department defendants

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- By late September 2011, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department "Special Operations Group" had FBI Agent Leah Marx under surveillance for more than two weeks. Her partner, FBI Agent David Lam, was under surveillance as well.

"Locate target and establish lifestyle," reads the surveillance order for Agent Lam.

Surveillance logs on Agent Marx turned up nothing more nefarious than the young agent picking up after her medium-sized brown and white dog. The surveillance team notes in its report that the dog went "#2".

WEB EXTRA: READ LASD SURVEILLANCE REPORTS ON FBI AGENTS

It's highly unusual for a local law enforcement agency to investigate and conduct surveillance on FBI agents, but this is an incredibly unusual case. Seven former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants stand convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their roles in trying to block a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in L.A. County Jails.

Eyewitness News has obtained hundreds of exhibits from the three trials, including the videotaped confrontation between Marx and two LASD Sergeants, along with hours of recorded jailhouse interviews.

LYING TO THE FBI

On September 26, 2011 Sgt. Scott Craig and Sgt. Maricela Long confronted FBI Special Agent Leah Marx outside her home; they flash their LASD badges at Marx and then threaten her with arrest. The entire confrontation was captured on video by the LASD surveillance team staked out across the street on orders from Sgt. Craig. That video would later become a key piece of evidence against Craig and Long who faced additional charges of making "false statements" to the FBI.

Sgt. Scott Craig: "Do you know that you are a named suspect in a felony complaint? Did you get that message?"

FBI Agent Leah Marx: "I did not. I will pass it along to our..."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "OK, what I'm going to do, just so you know, is I'm in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant for you. Would you like us to go through... who?"

FBI Agent Leah Marx: "I would prefer that you would actually contact the Special Agent-In-Charge of the FBI."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "OK, what we're going to do to arrange for your arrest when we're ready to do that is we can either do this...?"

FBI Agent Leah Marx: "No, I would, you need to contact the FBI Office."


WEB EXTRA: WATCH VIDEO OF CONFRONTATION BETWEEN LASD AND FBI

Lying to the FBI is a crime, as Sgt. Craig would soon find out. Marx was not "a named suspect in a felony complaint" and Craig knew he could not arrest the FBI agent for her role in the FBI's undercover operation at Men's Central Jail. The FBI sting included smuggling a contraband cell phone into inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown through a corrupt sheriff's deputy who accepted a cash bribe from an undercover FBI agent.

Craig did not have probable cause to arrest Marx because the contraband phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI investigation. No less than the head of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office had told then-Sheriff Lee Baca that himself more than a month before the threat to arrest Agent Marx.

The federal judge who oversaw all three trials delivered a harsh rebuke to six of the defendants at their sentencing last month.

Judge Percy Anderson: "Perhaps it's a symptom of the corrupt culture within the Sheriff's Department, but one of the most striking things aside from the brazenness of threatening to arrest an FBI agent for a crime of simply doing her job and videotaping yourself doing it, is that none of you have shown even the slightest remorse."

WEB EXTRA: READ JUDGE'S SENTENCING STATEMENT ON LASD DEFENDANTS

Hours after the confrontation, Sgts. Craig and Long got a frantic phone call from Marx's FBI Supervisor, Special Agent Carlos Narro.

Special Agent Narro: "She indicated to me that you guys indicated to her that there's going to be a warrant for her arrest?"

Sgt. Long: "There's going to be."

Special Agent Narro: "Do... does the Sheriff know this?"

Sgt. Long: "The Sheriff knows this."

Special Agent Narro: "OK, ah, just so you know that they ADIC and the US Attorney are, are in the process of reaching out to him. Um, ah, what, can I ask what charges are
going to be?"

Sgt. Long: "OK, you're going to have to speak to the Undersheriff, and that's Mr. Paul Tanaka."


The phone call ends but Sgt. Long's tape recorder is still rolling.

Sgt. Long: "They're scared! They're like, do you know when, is the warrant..."

Sgt. Craig: "You're still rolling... (laughter)."


But again, Marx was NOT going to be arrested. Sgt. Long's repetition of that lie to Agent Narro is one of the "false statements" that's sending Long, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, to federal prison.

Judge Percy Anderson: "You don't serve the public by using your position to conceal wrongdoing in the jails. You don't serve the public by hiding witnesses. You don't serve the public by tampering with witnesses, and you don't serve the public by threatening to arrest an FBI agent in some misguided effort to get her to reveal the details of her investigation."

Judge Percy Anderson: "They did this to scare and intimidate the FBI. They did all those things to derail the federal investigation. They intended to obstruct justice."

WITNESS TAMPERING

Contempt for the FBI is evident in emails and recorded interviews as well. Lt. Steve Leavins refers to the FBI as "spoiled children", "pitiful" and "idiots" in various emails entered into evidence and obtained by Eyewitness News.

WEB EXTRA: READ EMAILS

In one recorded interview, Lt. Leavins tells Deputy Gilbert Michel -- who'd been caught taking a bribe in that FBI sting operation - that he's being lied to and manipulated by the FBI, that he's a pawn in their little game.

That's witness tampering. Prosecutors say the defendants repeatedly tried to discourage witnesses, including Deputy Michel, from cooperating with the FBI.

Lt. Steve Leavins: "Is this just about a cellular telephone, Gilbert?"

Dep. Gilbert Michel: "No, sir."

Lt. Steve Leavins: "What's this about? Open your mind up a little bit!

Dep. Gilbert Michel: "It's about, they're trying to bring down the department... and find out information."

Lt. Steve Leavins: "And who are they trying to use to do that?

Dep. Gilbert Michel: "Me, sir."

Lt. Steve Leavins: "Thank you."


In that same interview, the defendants tell Deputy Michel that the FBI is lying to him, threatening and blackmailing him.

Sgt. Scott Craig: "I call bull----, I call bull----. That's what I call. Not from... I'm not saying what you're telling us is, I call their threats and their blackmail and their... it's all bull----, OK?"

Deputy Gilbert Michel: "Another thing that..."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "Because you don't know, because they're trying to scare you."


At this point, Dep. Michel had already confessed to accepting a bribe to bring that contraband cell phone into inmate Anthony Brown. Michel explained to Craig, Long, and Leavins that the FBI had come to his house and shown him a video they recorded of him accepting the cash from an undercover FBI agent known only as "CJ."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "And the f------ FBI is gonna come to your house and surprise you at your home and invade the sanctity of your home and come here and talk a gang load of s--- to you and threaten you?"

Deputy Gilbert Michel: "Yes, sir."


The witness tampering appears to work. By the end of the interview, Deputy Michel turns against the FBI.

Deputy Gilbert Michel: "I mean, the FBI, you know I see what they're doing, they're trying to break down the department and I mean, I, honestly, I'll do whatever it takes for the Department."

Sgt. Craig orders Deputy Michel to NOT talk to the FBI.

Sgt. Scott Craig: "Okay. Um, and while we're on that subject, um, Sergeant Long and I, and our Lieutenant, I'm, I'm ordering you not to discuss this with anyone period.

Deputy Gilbert Michel: "Yes, sir."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "That's your girlfriend, that's the FBI, that's anyone, OK?"

Deputy Gilbert Michel: "Yes, sir."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "You can discuss this with your attorney, obviously.

Deputy Gilbert Michel: "Uh-huh"

Sgt. Scott Craig: "OK. He's the only... uh or a priest, OK?"


Defense attorneys pointed out at trial that the defendants DID appear to record everything. That, they argued, is evidence the defendants had no ill-intent. Why would they record jailhouse interviews with Deputy Michel and the confrontation with FBI Agent Leah Marx if they believed they were committing some kind of crime?

Percy Anderson: "... their goal was not to build a case against the deputy but to convince him not to cooperate with the FBI, not to turn on the department and provide evidence against the other deputies."

THE INMATE... TURNED FBI INFORMANT

Inmate Anthony Brown is a fast-talking, wise-cracking convicted felon who'd only been out of prison for six weeks when he went on a crack-fueled crime spree in 2009 - robbing banks, restaurants and drug stores in Downtown Los Angeles. Brown wielded an old revolver and made his getaway on a bicycle. Surveillance photos showed Brown losing so much weight so quickly, an LAPD spokesperson joked that Brown was on the "crack diet."

The LAPD caught up with Brown in August of 2009 and the native New Yorker quickly confessed. Brown later changed his story and contested the charges, but the third-striker was convicted and sentenced to 423 years to life in prison.


Brown was still awaiting trial at Men's Central Jail when he was recruited as an FBI informant by Agent Leah Marx. In 2011, a plan was approved to smuggle a cell phone into Brown so he could document any possible abuse, as well as communicate with his FBI handlers.

Before he received the cell phone, Brown called Marx at her FBI office from a jailhouse phone line that's routinely recorded.

Brown had the FBI cell phone for less than three weeks when it was discovered by a jailhouse deputy, wrapped in a latex glove and stashed inside a bag of Doritos. Deputies with MCJ's "Operation Safe Jails" eventually connected Brown to the FBI, setting off a series of jailhouse interviews that were sometimes tense, and sometimes comical.

Anthony Brown: "You've not going to kill me, are you? (laughter) I've been watching too much TV... "

The Sheriff's Department wanted to know - how did Brown get the phone? Were there more cell phones in the jails? Did the FBI smuggle drugs into the jail? What was the FBI investigating? How much did the FBI already know?

Deputy Gerard Smith: "OK, so the nurse brought you the phone, or the deputy?"

Anthony Brown: "The deputy brought me the phone. I wasn't going to tell the deputy that a mother f-ing deputy gave me a phone! How stupid is that?"

Deputy Gerard Smith: "I understand. No, no - I understand where you're sitting. I understand, dude. That's why I said I'm only after the truth."


Brown is chatty, but sees an opportunity to make some demands of his own before he'll spill the beans on the FBI operation.

Anthony Brown: "Who's in charge that can get me cigarettes? You get me cigarettes, a cheeseburger and a soda and we can sit down and talk Smith."

Over the next few days, Brown reveals more about the FBI investigation, telling the defendants that he's witnessed inmates being beat up by deputies and he's reported this back to the FBI. Brown claims he's taken photographs and even video to help the FBI make their case.

Anthony Brown: "You got to understand when a mother f---- is in here, he's supposed to be locked up for whatever crime, maybe he's been convicted, maybe he hasn't. But you guys are the only protection he got. What happens when you guys, and when I say you guys not you, I'm just pointing at the uniform, when you all start beating the s--- out of people. Not y'all again, I'm just speaking -- beating the f--- out of people, letting other people beat the f--- out of people. Not helping them. People getting raped in here, all kinds of s--- - whatever it is. It's no good, bringing in drugs, having people running gangs..."

Lt. Steve Leavins: "If it is illegal, it cannot be happening here. And it's our job to investigate."


Deputy Gerard Smith: "That's why we're here."

Brown tells the deputies the FBI has been gathering evidence inside the jails for years. He says the feds are coming to "clean" the Sheriff Department's "house."

Anthony Brown: "You clean your own backyard or you want the Feds to clean it? Because if the Feds clean it, they're gonna come down here, I'm gonna tell you know, they're gonna clean house and believe me, there's enough evidence on a lot of mother f------ in here."

Deputy Gerard Smith: "If someone is coming to my house to clean it up, they better f------ knock on my door first."


On August 23, 2011 FBI agents got into Men's Central Jail to see Brown despite a LASD directive to not allow any visits from "outside" law enforcement without approval. Sheriff Department officials abruptly broke up the interview when they realized the FBI had gotten in to see Brown.

Later that day, Lt. Leavins told Brown he was going to be moved to a station jail in San Dimas for his own safety. Brown's name was also changed and his inmate records were falsified to make it appear as if he'd been released from LASD custody.

Lt. Steve Leavins: "I don't like the fact that you're in here with the very deputies you're alleging have been misbehaving, right? So we're going to move you to a station jail, where you can have more privileges and more freedom.

Anthony Brown: "Station jail... ?"

Lt. Steve Leavins: "Yep. And you'll be not subject to all the rules and regulations."

Anthony Brown: "What's that like?"

Lt. Steve Leavins: "It's like..."

Captain Tom Carey: "...Camp Snoopy."


That's when Brown disappears from the LASD computer system. The FBI can't find him. On August 25th, 2011 the FBI obtains a "writ" - or court order -- from a federal judge to force the LASD to turn Brown over the U.S. Marshals Service. But the writ disappears after it's served on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Brown begins to wonder why he hasn't heard from his FBI handlers. He tells Sgts. Craig and Long that FBI Agent Leah Marx had promised to come back for him as she was being kicked out of their interview at Men's Central Jail.

Anthony Brown: "They were talking to me and it got to the point where Sergeant Waterloo, he came and he lifted up the thing and then, uh, Leah told the David by the door to open it and he was like in a deep voice, 'This interview's over! Get up!' And I, I just got up and I left my folder and ummm Leah and I guess... said 'don't worry we're gonna pull you.' And I just walked out."

Sgt. Maricela Long: "That's what they said?"

Anthony Brown: "Yeah, they said..."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "Like they were gonna put money on your books? What day was that?"

Sgt. Maricela Long: "And they haven't come back for you."


Once again, that's witness tampering. The jury agreed with prosecutors that statements like "they haven't come back for you" were meant to discourage Anthony Brown from any further cooperation with the FBI.

The FBI hadn't come back for Brown because they didn't know where he was. Brown had been rebooked in San Dimas under a series of fake names with no live-scan/fingerprints that would have allowed the FBI to find him.

Sgt. Scott Craig: "So just to review the last basically two years you've been providing the FBI..."
Anthony Brown: "Nonstop information."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "... information regarding, and I'll call it misconduct by the Sheriff's Department Deputy Sheriffs and Custody Assistants."
Anthony Brown: "That's correct."

Sgt. Scott Craig: "And have they told you or, or indicated to you or hinted to you what they intend on doing with that information?"
Anthony Brown: "They said they... well one time they said they was gonna take the house down. That's what they said one time, but the other day they said the operation's still going."

Lopez: "Still going?"

Anthony Brown: "Yes."

Sgt. Maricela Long: "And the house is still there, right?"

Anthony Brown: "Huh?"

Sgt. Maricela Long: "The house is still there."

Anthony Brown: "Yeah, oh yeah, I know."


THE AFTERMATH

After weeks hidden away from his FBI handlers, Brown writes a letter to Lt. Leavins, Capt. Carey, Sgt. Long and Sgt. Craig denouncing the FBI and declaring that the "LASD should handle their own problems, NOT the FBI or any other agency." Brown says he will not testify for the FBI because the "FBI has left me for dead!"

WEB EXTRA: READ ANTHONY BROWN'S LETTER TO THE LASD

Brown never did testify at any of the three trials, for either side. He did, however, testify before a grand jury more than a year after this bizarre episode. Brown is now back at state prison serving his 423 year sentence and hoping to appeal his 2011 conviction for a series of armed robberies. Brown tells Eyewitness News he's been contacted by a movie director who wants to tell his story.

WATCH: JAILHOUSE INTERVIEW WITH FBI INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN

The six defendants convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in July, Greg Thompson, Steve Leavins, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 21 months to 41 months. Long and Craig were also convicted of making false statements to the FBI. All six defendants are appealing the verdicts.

A seventh defendant, James Sexton, was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in September after his first trial ended with a hung jury. Sexton will be sentenced in early December.

Judge Percy Anderson: "The court hopes that if and when other deputies are faced with decisions similar to those you face, they will remember what happened here today. They will not look the other way or obstruct an investigation; that they will recognize that blind obedience to a corrupt culture has serious consequences, that they will enforce the law rather than conspire to commit crimes, that they will do what is right rather than what is easy."

Got a tip? Email Investigative Producer Lisa.Bartley@abc.com

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