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LASD Lt., Valencia resident charged in FBI probe

Posted: December 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.

A Sheriff’s Department lieutenant who lives in Santa Clarita has been identified as a central figure in a corruptions probe involving the Los Angeles County jail system.

Lt. Stephen Leavins of Valencia was one of 18 sworn Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officers named last week in an FBI probe into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption inside the nation’s largest jail system, a spokesman for United States Attorney’s Office said.

Leavins was assigned to the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which scrutinizes the conduct of LASD deputies.

He and co-defendant Deputy Mickey Manzo entered a plea of not guilty Dec. 9, the day federal prosecutors unveiled details of a criminal complaint and four grand jury indictments.

Leavins and Manzo were named in one of those indictments, each charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of justice, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. The pair are slated to appear in court again Jan. 6 for a status conference before U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, Mrozek said.

Leavins, who turns 52 next month and who has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for at least 20 years, is one of seven defendants named in what federal officials have dubbed the “obstruction case.”

The six-count federal indictment alleges all seven participated in a broad conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Judge Anderson scheduled a trial date of Feb. 4 for all seven named in the indictment, which includes Leavins, Manzo, Lt. Gregory Thompson, Gerard Smith, Scott Craig, Maricella Long and James Sexton. All have entered not guilty pleas, Mrozek said.

The obstruction case developed when Sheriff’s Department personnel assigned to the Men’s Central Jail — including Thompson, who oversaw LASD’s Operation Safe Jails Program — learned an inmate was an FBI informant and was cooperating in the FBI civil rights probe.

After learning the inmate received a cell phone from a deputy who took a bribe, those allegedly involved in the obstruction scheme took “affirmative steps to hide the cooperator” from the FBI and from the United States Marshals Service, which was trying to get the inmate to testify before a federal grand jury in response to an order issued by a federal judge, prosecutors claim.

As part of the conspiracy, they said, the Sheriff’s Department personnel named in the indictment allegedly altered records to make it appear that the cooperating inmate had been released.

They then re-booked the inmate under adifferent name and told the inmate he had been abandoned by the FBI, the indictment says.

Over several weeks, the Sheriff’s Department personnel also allegedly tried to obtain an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to the LASD.

After the judge refused to issue such an order, according to the indictment, two LASD sergeants who are charged in the case confronted an FBI special agent at her home in an attempt to intimidate her into providing details about the investigation.

The sergeants falsely told the special agent and her supervisor that they were obtaining a warrant for her arrest, according to the indictment.

The obstruction of justice indictment was one of five cases filed by the FBI against the Sheriff’s Department over civil rights and other issues in the county jail system.
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