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Jury selection begins in trial of Valencia man accused in jail corruptions probe

Posted: May 21, 2014 5:45 p.m.
Updated: May 21, 2014 5:45 p.m.

Jury selection began Wednesday in the trial of a Valencia man named as a central figure in a corruptions probe involving the Los Angeles County jail system.

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

Leavins, 52, who has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for at least 20 years, is one of seven defendants, out of the 18 arrested, named in what federal officials have dubbed the “obstruction case.”

Leavins is being tried along with five co-defendants, according to Mrozek.

“Jury selection began today in that trial,” Mrozek told The Signal. “It’s unclear when opening statements will be, but I suspect it will be Tuesday.”

The first jury trial in the corruption case began last week when Deputy James Sexton appeared in U.S. District Court to face charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Sexton is being tried alone in his case.

On Wednesday, the jury in the Sexton trial was deliberating, Mrozek said. And, by mid-afternoon, the jury indicated it could not reach a verdict, Mrozek said.

“The jury sent in a note a couple hours ago indicating that they couldn’t reach a verdict,” he said at about 2 p.m.

“Leavins is part of the group of the remaining six defendants,” Mrozek said.

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

Leavins 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, Mrozek said. The pair are slated to appear in court again Tuesday.

The six-count federal indictment alleges that Leavins and the six others charged participated in a broad conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The indictment names 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 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 a different 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.
On Twitter @jamesarthurholt


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