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Report Criticizes FBI Delay in Revealing Flawed Forensics…US Magistrate Calls for Drug Case Dismissal Citing Misconduct….DA’s Office Charges LAPD Officer with Assault….and More

July 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesay, the FBI’s Office of Inspector General issued a report exposing the FBI’s failure to expeditiously review potentially flawed forensic work affecting thousands of cases, including the cases of more than 60 death row defendants, and at least three people who have since been exonerated.

Back in 1997, an OIG investigation uncovered flawed forensic work done by 13 crime lab examiners. According to the new report, it took the FBI more than 5 years to identify the death row inmates whose cases needed reexamination. One of the three defendants put to death would have been ineligible for the death penalty if not for the flawed lab work.

The report said the FBI’s foot-dragging caused “irreversible harm” and urged the department to notify the approximately 2,900 people whose cases were re-examined.

Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu has more on the report. Here are some clips:

The report said the FBI took more than five years to identify more than 60 death-row defendants whose cases had been handled by 13 lab examiners whose work had been criticized in a 1997 inspector-general investigation.

As a result, state authorities could not consider whether to stay sentences, and three men were put to death. One of those defendants, who was executed in Texas in 1997, would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, the report said.

“Failures of this nature undermine the integrity of the United States’ system of justice and the public’s confidence in our system,” the 146-page report stated. The failure to admit errors at the time “also injured the reputation of the FBI and the Department.”


As of October, the 26 surviving death-row inmates whose cases were included in the review had all been notified that their convictions had been re-examined, Steele said. The inspector general had recommended the notifications and retesting of evidence in 24 death-row cases in which the defendant was deceased.

The inspector general’s office said the department should notify all 2,900 defendants whose cases were reviewed by the task force, starting with 402 defendants whose cases were so problematic that the task force obtained a fresh scientific review. Their names were made public Wednesday for the first time.

The report said that even more defendants’ cases should have been reviewed but were omitted for inappropriate reasons, and the scope of errors never would be known. For many defendants, it said, “delays were very prejudicial and, for some, they caused irreversible harm.”


On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach called for the dismissal of drug trafficking charges against Jeremy Halgat, a former member of the Vagos motorcycle gang, citing alleged misconduct by the lead undercover agent in the investigation.

Ferenbach says that during “Operation Pure Luck” (a joint-investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Las Vegas Police, and the LASD), Agostino Brancato, an LASD officer deputized by ATF, falsified a drug transaction report and “manufactured crime” by coercing an unwilling Halgat to traffic drugs—all allegedly with Brancato’s ATF supervisor’s knowledge.

The Las Vegas Review Journal’s Jeff German has the story. Here are some clips:

In a rare decision late Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach criticized Agostino Brancato, a deputized agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for manufacturing the cocaine case against Jeremy Halgat, though Halgat had no criminal record and repeatedly told the agent in secretly recorded conversations that he did not want to traffic in drugs.

“The problem is that the government’s investigation deployed techniques that generated a wholly new crime for the sake of pressing criminal charges against Halgat,” Ferenbach wrote in his 34-page decision.

Ferenbach also said that despite Brancato’s denial, “there is no doubt” he “falsified” a report of one of the alleged drug transactions and that supervisors of his ATF-led task force “did not dissuade him” from doing it.

“This is distressing,” Ferenbach said. “Can the court rely on the chain of custody of evidence that the government will proffer against Halgat at trial? Did Brancato’s supervisors permit other falsifications?”


Brancato was the lead undercover agent in “Operation Pure Luck,” a three-year joint investigation led by the ATF into drug and illegal weapons dealing by members of motorcycle gangs, including the Vagos. Las Vegas police, North Las Vegas police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were part of the task force.

The investigation launched in April 2010 with the secret help of a Vagos gang member, and two years later Brancato, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy deputized by the ATF, became a full-fledged member of the Vagos club while working undercover.


In his decision, Ferenbach said Halgat “was not eager to participate in Brancato’s scheme in any capacity.” Halgat, he explained, had used cocaine and dealt drugs in the past but had “repudiated” those activities.

“His willingness to traffic in drugs only re-emerged after ATF injected itself into Halgat’s life and repeatedly solicited his services,” Ferenbach wrote.

Brancato also was unable to get Halgat to sell him illegal firearms, according to the magistrate.

Ferenbach said he was troubled that the “ATF had investigated Halgat for three years, found no contraband after executing two search warrants and indicted him for a crime designed and initiated by the ATF.”


On Wednesday, LA County District Attorney’s Office charged LAPD officer Jonathan Lai with “assault by a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon” for using his baton to beat a man who was kneeling with his hands on his head. A video of the incident was captured by a restaurant’s security camera. If convicted, Lai faces four years behind bars.

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story. Here’s a clip:

The cop, identified as 30-year-old Jonathan Lai, pleaded not guilty today to “one count each of assault by a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon,” the D.A.’s office stated.

The case is unusual in that it’s rare for the District Attorney’s office, which has to work closely with police to prosecute suspects, to charge a cop for an incident involving on-duty use of force:

This prosecution signals the continued willingness on the part of elected D.A. Jackie Lacey to go after LAPD officers despite their collective political power in the city.

However, the D.A.’s office says the department actually investigated the case, apparently before bringing it to prosecutors.


Among the major challenges that will face the two new LA County Supervisors to be elected this November, is how best to implement recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, in order to reform LA’s broken Department of Children and Family Services.

With this in mind, the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback interviewed one of the candidates for Supe Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, Sheila Kuehl (who is running against Bobby Shriver), to probe her vision for a better child welfare system.

Kuehl’s sister is a juvenile dependency court judge in Sacramento. Because of this, Kuehl says has a deep understanding of the child welfare system. She says that the additional 450 social workers hired this year are a step in the right direction, but that more must be hired. She wants caseloads to be reduced to a maximum of 20 per social worker.

Here are some clips from Loudenback’s interview with Kuehl:

“You will see paper files stacked up five feet on the floor, on the desks, on the chairs,” Kuehl said in an interview. “We have a huge caseload in the courts in family law and juvenile courts, which very seriously reduces judges’ ability to make timely decisions, especially about very young children and to be able to assess if the placement found by the social worker is adequate.”

Kuehl is hoping that she will be tapped to help find lasting solutions for the courts and other persistent challenges to the child welfare system like the sky-high caseloads faced by social workers, the large number of juvenile justice-involved foster youth and locating sufficient funding.


One hurdle the new Board of Supervisors will have to contend with are the elevated caseloads faced by county social workers. Kuehl says that providing resources to social workers and other employees in the child welfare system are among the most pressing issues identified in the Blue Ribbon Commission Report. The 450 new social workers hired this year are not nearly enough to deal with a critical need.

“In my opinion that’s still inadequate to keep track of all these children and really assess whether or not they’re safe from month to month,” Kuehl said. “ I would like to see the caseload be decreased to no more than 20 cases per social worker. In terms of how social workers we would need to add, I’m not sure I have the answer to that.”

A former family law attorney, Kuehl would also like to implement provisions to improve outcomes for two vulnerable populations: the many youth who are represented in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems and older foster who are aging out of the system.

She hopes the county will experiment more with a Missouri model of juvenile justice that stresses lower caseloads for prison workers while providing greater therapeutic and educational opportunities for youth. And an expansion of transition planning for youth for aging out of the system could offer more to many foster youth who struggle with homelessness after leaving foster care.

Posted in FBI, Foster Care, Inspector General, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD | 19 Comments »

19 Responses

  1. Truth Serum Says:

    Once again a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy has brought shame to a once “Top Notch” department.
    Deputy Brancato along with other “Dirty” deputies does not have the guts to acknowledge their wrongdoing and fall on their sword.
    A once “Proud” department has turned to shit because of “Pieces of Shit”, who wear our star.
    How embarrassing to the deputies who put their life on the line and the applicants and new recruits whose dream, is not only becoming a cop, but a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff. May God continue to watch over those who truly does the “Lord’s work” with integrity and honesty.

  2. Dulce Says:

    Serum….don’t believe everything you read. Settle down….

  3. Truth Serum Says:

    @ Dulce. Oh no……Not you again Sweetness! Do you have any facts (I do) refuting this.

    I didn’t think so. Don’t tell me that he was your bud from region II

  4. Pump Your Brakes Says:

    Serum.. Pump your brakes. Have you ever heard the term. (Do Process). I’m with Dulce.

  5. LATBG Says:

    The Brancato story has a lot more to it than reported here. Maybe Dulce can explain to all how Brancato got to Major Crimes Bureau in the first place…

  6. Pump Your Brakes Says:

    This should be interesting. Lets hear it.

  7. Haaa Says:

    He was hand picked by his buddy Luther.

  8. Huh! Says:

    @LATBG: I hate to see Deps get in trouble, but I can’t help say “I told you so” when someone is given a “dream job” like Major Crimes Bureau, just because they knew someone, not because they had the experience!

  9. SOS Says:

    @ Duce & Pump……Learn from Leavins.

  10. The Past Says:

    I admit I know zero about the circumstances surrounding the rebuff of Investigator Berncato by Federal Judge Frenbach. What I do know though, when dealing with outlaw bike groups such as the Vagos, Angels or others, you are dealing with people who should be devoid of normal rights. I cite a kidnapping of a young woman in the late 60′s by an outlaw biker group from the Sunset Strip. She was home from the University of Hawaii for Christmas break and was abducted &’found dead off of Mulholland some days later. Evidence & investigation revealed that she was tethered, held for several days, gang raped,an ultimately killed by a well known outlaw biker group. The grotesqueness of her death will never be forgotten by me. I made a promise from that incident that I would not give any outlaw biker the slightest break.
    As extralegal as this may sound, a former Vago doesn’t warrant judicial indignation, maybe dismissal, but ridicule of the effort to deal with vermin such as this is total BS. Sorry if this seems harsh but he and his buddies need to be stuffed down the nearest outhouse!

  11. pump your brakes Says:

    Truth serum, if you are a deputy, one of the first things you are taught is not everything is what it appears to be. Your statement condemns someone based on a news article without hearing or seeing all the facts. You pontificate about a once proud department, well pal; it still is a proud department with tremendous people working to protect our County. I do not believe you are a deputy sheriff, simply a “poser” hiding behind a web name. Your grammar and punctuation validates my suspicion of you as a “poser.” Truly, a deputy sheriff would not write what you did. If you are a deputy sheriff, go away; go far away from this STILL proud department.

  12. Truth Serum Says:

    @pump your brakes. ….Your retorts are typical of an Gung-jo, yet inexperienced deputy who has yet to do bigger things, outside the station level. Your beliefs and suspicions gives credence to the fact that you are definitely not a detective.
    The news about Brancato may be new to you.( Those intimately involved know otherwise) This blog is not a proving ground for me. If you have an opinion, then good for you……Don’t be cynical when someone else has a fact, that you don’t agree with or have no knowledge of.

    You read, you write, and you move on. My suggestion to you, @ pump your brakes…. is to “park your car” and pay the meter. When you get more experience (with facts), then you can go to valet parking

  13. proud ole retiree Says:

    I have to chime in. Serum……. You would be doing the world a favor if you would strangle yourself, you are clueless as to what goes thru the mind of a cop. There is no way you are a cop, My bet ; got hired (quotas you know. ) the first day of the Academy, he realizes their no restrooms for his class, The DI ‘s yelled at him and he broke down end of tune,

  14. Dulce Says:

    Serum, LATBG, and the like, it sure sounds like you are upset because you didn’t get that “dream job.” Even if you did, you wouldn’t have the balls to do it. Sure is easy to judge when you are playing solitaire in a control booth.

  15. LATBG Says:

    Dulce, question asked, question ignored. You answered as expected, and confirmed what we suspected.

  16. Truth Serum Says:

    @13 proud ole retiree= (loud, old ass and {re} tired). Good that you can take a break from your job as a Walmart greeter and read WLA.

    Your knowledge of life in this department (after leavin) outside of this blog is zero.

    I envision you as a tobacco chewer in a wrinkled Class B uniform w/white socks and scuffed low quarter shoes,at PJPHR telling the new deputies, about waaaaay back when John Wayne was Sheriff.

    You are pure comedy

  17. Coyote Waits Says:

    Well what did you expect? This is the same ATF from Ruby Ridge and Waco. The same ATF that got Jake Koridgian killed in Santa Clarita. Too bad Deputy Brancato got caught up in their BS.

  18. proud ole retiree Says:

    serum….. Yea, that’s it. I won’t respond to your juvenile post. Refuse to get into a pissing contest wit a skunk. You are pathetic.

  19. Huh! Says:

    @Dulce: why do you always have to make accusations such as your “no balls” comment and assume people are working a “control booth” or other comments that insinuate inexperience, rather than admit the BS that has gone on our department. PT is as good as gone and slowly but surely the cream will rise to the top, so I’m sure you will be left behind!

    You would be wise “not to assume” we didn’t get the “dream job,” but realize maybe some of us are tired of getting saddled with a partner/teammate who is working a position above their experience or abilities!

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