7 PLEAD NOT GUILTY
By Monday afternoon, all seven Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members indicted last Monday for obstruction of justice had entered pleas not guilty for their alleged roles in an elaborate scheme to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal agent handlers. (For the back story on the Anthony Brown case go here)
In all, there were eighteen federal indictments handed down last week, seven of which pertained to the hiding of Brown.
Former Lt. Gregory Thompson, Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long, and Deputy Gerard Smith, formally pleaded on Monday morning, while Lt. Stephen Leavins and Deputy Mickey Manzo went to court last week.
Deputy James Sexton pleaded not guilty in a hearing of his own on Monday afternoon.
Of the seven indicted for the Anthony Brown matter, Sexton is something of an outlier in that he has reportedly been cooperating with the feds on the case since the summer of 2012 when he and his LASD partner, Deputy Mike Rathbun, contacted the FBI as whistleblowers to report another case of alleged LASD wrongdoing they had witnessed inside Men’s Central Jail in the course of their work.
As a consequence, many were surprised at the inclusion of Sexton on the indictment list.
In contrast, the other six obstruction defendants reportedly declined to cooperate-–although sources tell us that at least one has signaled a willingness to talk since the indictments were unsealed.
The Anthony Brown/obstruction of justice charges could possibly bring as much as 10 or 15 years in prison, thus the feds are clearly hoping that last week’s indictments will persuade most or all of the defendants to reveal what they know—which is reportedly a considerable amount.
At the moment, the highest ranking of the 18 department members named in the federal indictments are the two lieutenants charged in the Anthony Brown case—retired Lt. Gregory Thompson and Lt. Stephen Leavins.
Yet, sources directly involved with or near to the hiding of Brown say that both Leavins and Thompson received their marching orders from the highest levels in the department.
According to sources, both men reported directly to former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Sources also allege that Thompson, Manzo and Smith were present on more than one occasion when Sheriff Lee Baca was briefed about the Brown operation.
The latter claim was repeated by the former undersheriff himself last spring in interviews with the LA Times and with KABC TV news, where Tanaka stated that he was ordered by the sheriff to keep Brown away from the FBI.
Here’s a clip from the April 30, 2013 Times story:
A federal criminal grand jury has been investigating whether sheriff’s officials were hiding the inmate and the phone from the FBI, or whether they were protecting the inmate from retaliation by jail deputies he was “snitching” on, as a sheriff’s spokesman has said.
Tanaka said Baca ordered subordinates to keep the inmate from the FBI until the department finished with him. He said the sheriff explicitly denied a request from a federal official to return the phone.
“I want the inmate interviewed. I don’t want him leaving our custody. I want the phone, all of the information removed from it and I don’t want the phone to go anywhere,” Baca said, according to Tanaka.
Asked if the sheriff was obstructing the FBI investigation, Tanaka said that he and other subordinates “had to really weigh” Baca’s orders to avoid “cross[ing] the line of doing anything wrong.”
THE SECRET RECORDING
When, at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox outlined some of the elements of the Brown case federal prosecutors expect to introduce at trial (which is set for February 4, 2014, but expected to be delayed) Fox said the feds had over a dozen audio recordings, around a dozen multimedia disks, and a long list of witnesses, many of whom have already testified in front of the federal grand jury that led to the current indictments.
Fox also said federal prosecutors had a copy of a recording that LASD Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long made in secret when they allegedly went out late at night to the home of FBI special agent Leah Marx, who was one of Brown’s federal handlers, and falsely told her they could arrest her on criminal charges, allegedly in an effort in a effort to intimidate her into revealing the information the feds had gotten from Brown.
In July of this year, WitnessLA reported on the existence of the recording in our story, Operation Pandora’s Box, about the hiding of Brown.
According to sources, the ICIB agents [Long and Craig] later played the recording for Sheriff Baca as part of a briefing on the matter. Baca reportedly thanked one of the sergeants for providing him with the week’s best laugh.
ALLOWED TO KEEP FIREARMS
All the defendants were asked to surrender their passports, all who still work for the department have been relieved of duty without pay, and all but Sexton were directed to surrender all firearms.
Sexton’s attorney, who happened to be former US Attorney Thomas O’Brien—AKA the person that US Attorney Andre Birotte replaced when Birotte appointed to the job in early 2010—argued calmly that Sexton should be allowed to keep his two firearms at home for his protection. Evidently, the threats seemed credible enough that prosecutor Fox agreed to the exception without much argument.
The notion that Sexton had reason to fear for his safety was detailed in a civil lawsuit filed by Sexton and Rathbun in federal court last spring (and refiled in state court more recently). In the filing, both deputies detailed having received a harrowing barrage of retaliation and threats—including death threats—from department members and others after the two men reported alleged wrongdoing, first through the appropriate LASD channels and, when they got little response, to the FBI, to the press, and eventually—in the case of the hiding of Anthony Brown—in front a grand jury.
Before Sexton’s hearing was over, attorney O’Brian mentioned to Judge Anderson that he would likely file a motion to sever Sexton’s case from that of the other six defendants. It was unclear from the judge’s response whether he would be likely to grant such a severance or not.
Among those supporting Sexton in court was his father, LASD Chief Ted Sexton, who—along with LASD Custody Chief Terri McDonnell—was one of the two high-ranking outsiders brought in by Sheriff Lee Baca last spring as a demonstration of his willingness to move his troubled department toward reform.
Sexton Sr., the longtime sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, now runs LASD’s Department of Homeland Security. Although he declined to talk to reporters at the hearing, he looked decidedly unhappy about his son’s present circumstances.