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LASD Lt. On Trial Tells of Orders Given by Baca and Tanaka, and Admits to “System Failure” Re: LASD Ability to Investigate Its Own Wrongdoing

June 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Lieutenant Steve Leavins, one of six defendants in the ongoing obstruction of justice trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department,
took the stand on Friday morning in a packed federal courtroom. In the testimony that followed, Leavins described a chain of events that began with a meeting on August 20, 2011, at which Sheriff Lee Baca (whom Leavins said he’d never met before that day) gave him the orders that set in motion a sequence of actions by Leavins and his five fellow defendants—Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Sergeant Scott Craig, Sergeant Maricela Long, Deputy Mickey Manzo and Deputy Gerard Smith—that ultimately led to the charges for which Leavins and the other five are now on trial.

According to the prosecution, those actions include, but are not limited to, allegedly helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, attempting to threaten and intimidate FBI special agent Leah Marx at her home, and endeavoring to bully and cajole sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michel into not cooperating with the FBI.

The jury had already heard in earlier testimony, how the August 20 meeting was called by the sheriff on an emergency basis on the Saturday after Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka first learned that an inmate named Anthony Brown had been found with a contraband cell phone, and that Brown was not any inmate, but an FBI informant. The jury had also heard previously that, two days before the August 20 meeting, Baca had been told by the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office that the cell phone and Brown were part of an undercover federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails, meaning the whole matter of the cell phone was fully sanctioned by FBI higher-ups.

Nevertheless, according to Leavins, Baca ordered him to launch a criminal investigation into the actions of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, who was the lead agent on the feds’ undercover probe, and thus responsible for Brown and the cell phone. He also ordered Leavins to “safeguard” Brown, which ultimately led to Brown being hidden—using an elaborate strategy of repeated name changes and avoidance of the normal fingerprinting process—from the FBI.


THE RISKS AND BENEFITS OF TESTIFYING

It is usually considered a risk for a defendant to get on the stand because, in cross-examination by the prosecution, the defendant is suddenly subject to questioning that may not be in his or her best interest. Yet on Friday the risk appeared to be mostly paying off for Leavins in that much of what he said bolstered an important part of the defense’s theory of the case, namely that all six defendants were good cops following lawful orders that were not of their own making.

In that vein, Leavins described the meetings subsequent to August 20 in which he said he briefed, got approval, and/or had been given orders by Baca or then undersheriff Paul Tanaka (or sometimes both men) about each action he and other defendants took to hide inmate Brown.

On the stand, Leavins’ painted a picture of a hyper-involved sheriff and equally present undersheriff who collectively directed him to circumvent the normal chain of command and report directly to them in meetings that were generally held in Tanaka’s office.

He also told how he had obtained “authorization” from Tanaka before he ordered surveillance of special agent Marx and how, in a meeting in Tanaka’s office, Sheriff Baca had instructed him to contact Marx at her residence “to get facts and information about the introduction of the cell phone.”

Another significant revelation that came out in Friday’s testimony was the fact that, according to Leavins, at least two department-related attorneys gave advice and signed off on the legality of many of the actions that are the now the basis of the government’s criminal charges. These included the hiding of Brown, and the investigation of FBI special agent Marx.

One of the attorneys Leavins said he consulted multiple times was Paul Yoshinaga, a deputy county counsel who was assigned to the sheriff’s department and had his office in the sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park. (Yoshinaga is reportedly also a long-standing personal friend of former undersheriff Tanaka, with the friendship dating as far back as high school when the two were in the same 1976 graduating class from Gardena High.)

The other attorney with whom Leavins said he consulted on repeated occasions about the legality of his actions was Mike Gennaco, head attorney for the Office of Independent Review (OIR). According to Leavins, at one point in a meeting in which the sheriff was also present, Gennaco said that “the FBI was going to be in trouble for smuggling that phone,” meaning the contraband cell that LASD deputy Gilbert Michel had brought in illegally to informant Brown as part of the FBI’s undercover sting. Baca, said Leavins, was in agreement.

“This furthered my belief that we were on firm legal ground to proceed,” Leavins testified of that meeting with Gennaco and Baca.


SYSTEM FAILURE

In another interesting and unexpected feature of both his direct testimony and in cross-examination by prosecutor Brandon Fox, Leavins admitted that he had “become aware that the sheriffs department’s internal mechanism to investigate…abuse” and brutality by deputies toward jail inmates “had failed,” that there was a “systemic breakdown” in supervision, discipline and investigation of abuses “that were occurring on a wide scale.”

Under questioning from Fox, Leavins conceded that, in one instance, he had become aware of a video of an inmate being abused by a deputy while restrained by chains. And yet, despite the presence of the video, both the department’s internal affairs investigators, and an “executive force review panel” concluded that the incident was fine and required no action. Leavins further conceded that, because of the “lack of discipline” signaling “tacit approval” for the deputy’s actions, the man committed more assaults on inmates, and has since been charged with the original assault.

While the theme of deputy abuse of inmates and “systemic breakdown” in the LASD’s ability to investigate such matters was originally brought up during the defense’s questioning of Leavins, it seemed mostly to support the prosecution’s contention that the FBI’s launch of an undercover investigation into abuse and corruption inside the jail system was more than warranted.


BUT WERE THE ORDERS LAWFUL?

Although the just-following-orders part of the defense strategy seemed measurably strengthened by Leavins’ testimony, the contention that these were lawful orders that he and the others were following seemed a harder theme to maintain, due to problems with the timeline in which the actions occurred.

For instance, Leavins had repeatedly insisted that Brown was only moved to outlying areas of the jail system with his name repeatedly changed, not to hide him from the feds, per se, but out of fear for the inmate’s safely because, due to his informant status, corrupt deputies might wish to do him harm. However, in cross examination Leavins conceded that, after Brown stopped cooperating with members of Leavins’ task force in early September 2011, he was moved virtually immediately back to Men’s Central Jail where he remained for 10 days (making him presumably within reach of deputies who might wish him ill) before finally being transferred to state prison.

Also in cross examination, Leavins described his attendance to a meeting on August 29, 2011, that included—among other people—Sheriff Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. It was at that meeting that Birotte told the sheriff to—as Leavins’ put it—”butt out” of the feds’ civil rights investigation into wrongdoing in the LA County Jails. Birotte further said, according to Leavins, that he didn’t want any more discord in the matter, and that he hoped the sheriff’s department would cooperate.

Yet, despite what was made clear at the August 29 meeting, according to Leavins’ earlier testimony, he kept on, as ordered, with a criminal investigation of FBI agent Marx and, in late September, with the sheriff’s encouragement and approval, sent Craig and Long to Marx’ home where the two sergeants falsely threatened to arrest her.

Leavins’ testimony will continue on Tuesday morning.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

27 Responses

  1. Prophet Mo' Teff Says:

    Should the U.S. Attorney initiate a prosecution of Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca or former UnderSheriff Paul Tanaka on charges related to threatening an FBI agent at her home while she was off-duty, then Baca and/or Tanaka will be able to present a very strong defense based on: Temporary Insanity.

  2. Bandwagon Says:

    Thank you Lt. Leavins for admitting what the rest of us have known for quite awhile, the Internal Affairs Bureau is corrupt and can not be trusted. Why did it take an indictment for you to speak the truth? A little late now for anyone that had been a victim of “systematic failure”.

  3. Sachamoe Says:

    A wonderful revealing insight to the absolute arrogance and corrupt minds of Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka. These two fools, DISPITE a meeting with Andre Birotte telling the Two Stooges to “butt out” and prior to that, a call from a high level Associate SAC of the FBI telling them the phone was placed into MCJ by them as part of a Federal investigation, they proceed anyway with this stupid plan to “hide and pump” Inmate Brown? And those two attorneys, Mr. OIR himself, talk about malpractice. But this is a perfect snapshot into the dysfunction of LASD management. No one had the balls to tell the Two Stooges, no. Tell them what they want to hear, “Yes sir, boss. Anything you say, boss. Consider it done, boss. I’m your Go To Guy, boss, 24-7 boss, anything you need. Boss, I’m loyal to the bone.”

    Leavin’s did himself no favors. He just kicked open Pandora’s Box and threw Tanaka and Baca under the bus. Me thinks by the time Leavin and the other Defendants finish their testimony, it “should” be clear to the jury, all of this stupid shit was done for one reason and one reason only, to Obstruct Justice. To obstruct an ongoing Federal investigation. Paul Tanaka, Lee Baca, Dan Cruz, Chris Nee and all of the other MCJ managers and supervisors, you folks should really be worried. The Leavins statements about the breakdown at MCJ is why the Feds were investgating LASD. Tip of the iceberg.

    By the way, now it’s clear why Olmsted went to the Feds about MCJ. The Two Stooges would not listen and then called Bob a liar when everything was exposed. “Olmsted never told me anything about excessive force at MCJ. No one ever told me anything and if they say they did, they’re a liar.” Oh Paul, you are so screwed one way or another. Hey Levins, I bet YOU wish you did the right thing after all else failed. I bet YOU wish YOU went to the FBI. You wouldn’t be where you are now. I’m sure Tanaka is going to take care if everything, right? He always takes care of “his people,” right? Or does he just take care of himself?

  4. Truth Serum Says:

    The chickens are coming home to roost. Amazing!

  5. LATBG Says:

    Lt. Leavins is a textbook example of what happens when political patronage trumps merit. He owed Tanaka something, that is why he was placed in the position he was in. Now how does McDonnell fix this? My guess is he won’t, but will merely make some symbolic changes as a gesture towards reform, but he will dodge the hard work. I would love to see him prove me wrong.

    The merit train left the station a long time ago, yet civil service protections for those who benefitted from patronage is firmly entrenched. This means there is a well-established mechanism to defend ill-gotten goods, and the burden of proof falls back on the Department to make adverse employment decisions for so many corrupt sergeants, lieutenants, captains, commanders, and higher.

    The recently announced moves by Sheriff Scott only scratches the surface of the problem, and merely redistributes problematic captains to other assignments they are still woefully unqualified for.

    And Todd, you better start embracing the same people you’ve blackballed, ignored or screwed over your entire career. It’s roughly the majority of the department that did not support Tanaka. If McDonnell makes the mistake of keeping you around, show some humility for a change. It would be refreshing.

  6. Day Shift MCJ Says:

    I hear ALADS voted in a new Board of Directors to be announced tomorrow before press conference, along with new Executive Director. ……any truth to that. ( I hope Hayhurst isn’t it) Will he resign? Seeing that he is retired and the PAC money is going the Jimmy McDonnell. Any word on contract negotiations. Hope it better than our last 2-2-2.

  7. not in the car Says:

    For all the deps and above that believe the illustrious form er sheriff Lee Baca is going to face a federal indictment re;Pandoras box, it is not gonna happen….Per Bill Stonich,Lee’s most vocal and ardent department supporter, Lee stepped down in lieu of an indictment…That is the past command staff at its finest…just the facts ma’am….

  8. This just in..... Says:

    I understand Todd Rogers is having a “Retire the Debt Party” over the weekend. Since Pat Gomez mopped the floor with Todd, not to mention Todd’s pathetic and outright embarrasing standing with the PPOA membership endorsement vote, Pat might send a sympathy check for five bucks. It’s my understanding Todd’s campaign rented a phone booth in Long Beach for this event, but they are concerned they haven’t sold enough tickets.

    Isn’t this the guy that was bragging how he was personally brought in by Baca to clean things up? Isn’t this the guy who bragged how he was restructuring the LASD fiscal house, saving hundreds of millions of dollars by exercising fiscal responsibility? Oh wait, this is the same guy who said he didn’t sell his soul to become Baca’s hand selected Assistant Sheriff. The same guy who said he was “one day away from announcing” he was running for Sheriff, but got that call from Leroy, geez, I think it was one day away too. I think the story is Todd walked into Baca’s office a Commander and walked out as an Assistant Sheriff and geez, one the same day, decided he wasn’t going to run for Sheriff after all. Man, I’m confused, because Todd did run for Sheriff, didn’t he? But wait, Jimmy “The Crime Fighter” was demoted because he never had been a Chief. And Todd? I forgot what Division he was Chief of before he sold his soul, I mean, promoted to Assistant Sheriff?

  9. Cowboy Says:

    Regarding IAB & ICB…..They were/are “YES” men with “NO” balls!

  10. Read it and Weep Says:

    @9, IAB and ICIB has been compromised for many years now. It all happened under Abner’s watch with the complicit assistance of Karen Mannis as well as many others. They simply turned their head and allowed Tanaka to do as he wished. It was all about promises made, promises kept.

  11. Investigative Mind Says:

    I have been hearing for quite some time Chief Abner is/was a huge problem of having ICIB squash investigations, especially in the last year. This is one of the reasons the current Captain was recently transferred there from Detective Division about three months ago.

    I wonder if Lt. Leavins has thanked her along with the other executives…..how tragic.

  12. Jack Dawson Says:

    Well, Paul Tanaka publicly calls people liars for identifying flawed organizational tactics. Regardless of whether you define it as corruption, indifference, negligence or poor management, the statements made by Leavins validated years of accusations.

    I’m sure County Council will enjoying signing the checks….

    I doubt that would surface in the campaign adds…

    A lot of families have suffered because of this man’s actions. Karma!

    Baca is responsible for the monster he enabled.

  13. Read it and Weep Says:

    Leavins and those like him, were placed in assignments like IAB and ICIB by Paul Tanaka for one reason and one reason only. They would do everything Paul told them to do, everything and anything to anyone. Leavins, regardless of how your trial turns out, you and your co-defendants willingly, most willingly jumped into that septic tank. It’s obvious by the email generated by Deputy Smith speaking about how they are involved in “the most important investigation in the history of LASD.” Really?

    You were all played like fools, enjoy the swim.

  14. Bandwagon Says:

    Cowboy: No need to be sexist….there are/were quite a few woman working IAB/ICB who don’t have any balls either…

  15. Handicapper Says:

    So Sheriff “Mister Core Values” Baca was told to “butt out” by the US Attorney but refused. Did he exercise common sense in all things he did. That would be a no. His actions impacted the communities faith in the Department. How many people did Baca go after for alleged violations of core values! Than he had the nerve to recite these core values when he announced his retirement!

    How many times did he and OIR turn their backs on the actions of Tanaka. Baca’s core values, what a joke!

  16. Read it and Weep Says:

    @15, Handicapper, seriously you must be jesting? Do you think Baca, Tanaka, Waldie, Stonich and all of that crowd for one minute “really” believed in or followed the Core Values? They violated those values daily and laughed, at us.

  17. end o' thee line Says:

    It’s a tragedy indeed. A bunch of fools drunk with power. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Let’s just hope the new guy will show no quarter, and send those that have fallen short packing.

  18. Bandwagon Says:

    Should Leavins and the other indicted deputies go to prison for following orders, probably not. Does someone need to be held accountable for the lives destroyed by IAB/ICIB. Definitely. Time to pay the piper.

  19. Tired of the bullies Says:

    What’s strange is that years back, Leavins was almost fired for lying to IAB, Mato retired in lieu of getting fired, and a host of the other Tanaka bullies have checkered pasts. Celeste should look into this.

  20. Time to Clean House Says:

    Look at all the names that had serious  I.A. issues that were swept under the  fourth floor carpet. Abram,  Bravo, Cooper, Cruz, Donahue, Thompson, Waters. Theses are only the ones that the press got hold of. I.A.B/I.C.I.B.  has been a mess for a long time.

  21. Read it and Weep Says:

    I just read a story posted by KABC TV on the trial. If I read it correctly, they state Leavins testified that he attended two meetings about the cellphone with the Feds when he and Baca were told the FBI was in fact, conducting a criminal investigation and the phone was theirs, not a “rogue agent,” selling dope, planing an escape, etc. Then Leavins said “Ok, it wasn’t two meetings I attended, it was one.” And then the Special Assistant to Andre Birotte testified that, “only Baca, Birotte and the SAC of the FBI” was in that meeting, and not Leavins. This is when Baca was told to “butt out,” of the their investigation but Baca decided not to, and instructed ICIB to continue on with Pandora’s Box. Then the KABC story says Leavins testified that he received assurance from Mike Gennaco from OIR that they were on solid legal ground to pursue their ICIB investigation. Yet Gennaco takes the stand as one of the final witnesses and testified that he never said that and does not recall having such a meeting.

    In fairness to Leavins, Is there any actual courtroom observers who can clarify if the KABC story is correct? Can someone clarify what was and was not stated on the stand?

  22. peacemaker Says:

    Is this the story you are referring too.
    http://abc7.com/news/lasd-corruption-trial-closing-arguments-set-for-friday/125427/

  23. Old School Says:

    Hey #19…..You bring up Guy Mato again, He can’t be that bad if he is still on the department. On your list, he is the only one that continues to stand. Once again, Guy Mato is a “Stand Up” and a “Ride or Die” Guy……Period. If you didn’t come on with the few of us who were sworn in under Peter Pitchess, then you need to research and back up your statement.

  24. Investigative Mind Says:

    #20, Which “Bravo” are you referring too?

  25. Oh Well Says:

    Lee Baca is no longer the sheriff. Paul Tanaka will not be the sheriff. Several members of the LASD face prison time. Why? Arrogance. Baca was told to butt out but he refused. That set the ball rolling for this whole fiasco. Baca’s and Tanaka’s egos wouldn’t allow them to be “told what’s up” by anybody, not even the FBI.
    They fucked with the wrong people and as a result they were both “put in check”. That’s the term for it. Definitely put in check.
    Even if neither of them is ever indicted, they’ve both paid a huge price. Baca steps down in lieu of indictment. He is disgraced. His legacy is forever ruined. Tanaka is publicly dragged thru the mud by the media. Enough of it sticks that it costs him any chance of getting the job he has coveted for more than a decade.
    All because they wouldn’t butt out of an investigation. Because they refused to realize or admit they weren’t the shot callers on the big yard.
    Simply put, they paid a huge price because of their egos.
    Their detractors can rest assured that both of them lay awake at night regretting their decisions.

  26. Truth Serum Says:

    To give you full clarification #21 as backed up by #22. Leavins lied and Sgt Craig thought he was super cop when he was trying to scare FBI Lisa Marx. I’ll bet everything I own that after that Cold December @ zero dark thirty, LASD will never again in our lifetime, try to “PUNK” another federal agency. If Sgt Craig knew so damn much, he would have backed off. I hope that LASD shed that “Cocky” and “Greater Than Thou” attitude. If they don’t……they shouldn’t “BITCH UP” when it’s time to pay the Piper. To ICIB personal on trial, you and your cronies have ” NO CREDIBILITY”. Don’t drop the soap in Prison. You make not get what you deserve, but you deserve what you get.

  27. Read it and Weep Says:

    If any of the Tanaka 6 are convicted and then the Feds decide the next dots to connect and indict are Baca and Tanaka, I wonder who the prosecution’s witnesses will be and how will all of that testimony go down? “That’s him, that’s the man right there. He told me to do it!” Should make for interesting theater.

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