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Trial gets under way in Sheriff’s Department obstruction case

Valencia man among those charged by U.S. Attorney’s Office

Posted: May 27, 2014 1:11 p.m.
Updated: May 27, 2014 1:11 p.m.

Prosecutors presented opening statements Tuesday in their case against six sworn Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officers — including a Valencia resident — accused of obstructing a federal investigation into the Los Angeles County jail system, a U,S. Attorney’s Office spokesman said.

Lt. Stephen Leavins, 52, of Valencia, and five other LASD officers named in the federal obstruction case faced a jury in U.S. District Court Tuesday, spokesman Thom Mrozek said.

“The jury was seated last week,” Mrozek said Tuesday. “They (jurors) heard opening statements this morning.”

In December, Leavins was one of 18 sworn Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officers named in an FBI probe into allegations of corruption and of civil rights abuses in the jail system.

Last Thursday the trial of another sheriff’s deputy accused of obstruction ended with a hung jury.

The jury could not agree on whether to convict James Sexton, 29, for what prosecutors said was his role in hiding an inmate informant from FBI agents.

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.

The obstruction case developed when Sheriff’s Department personnel assigned to Men’s Central Jail learned an inmate was an FBI informant and was cooperating in an FBI civil rights and corruption probe of the jail.

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, 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.
On Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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