FBI Jail LA County Jail LASD Pandora's Box

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX GOES TO TRIAL: Opening Arguments, LASD Fed Obstruction of Justice Trial, Round 2


“Lock the jail, hide the informant, silence the witnesses, threaten the FBI agent and make it all go away,”
said Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes as she commenced her opening statement for the prosecution on Tuesday morning.

This is, of course, the second trial pertaining to the group of seven federally indicted members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who are accused of interfering in an FBI investigation into corruption and brutality in the LASD-run LA County jails.

Last week, the trial of one of the seven, Deputy James Sexton, ended with a hung jury.

The trial that began on Tuesday involves the other six department members, who are, like Sexton, accused of hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and more.

Judging from Tuesday’s opening statements, both the prosecutors and the defense attorneys in this second corruption of justice trial have benefited from watching the week-long Sexton trial.

For example, on the prosecution’s end, Rhodes spent more time stressing the context in which the FBI investigation took place, which involved multiple inmates giving what the feds felt were credible accounts of being brutalized by deputies, or observing others being brutalized, to the point that “there appeared to be a pattern,” she said.

But such allegations are tough to prove. “Inmates could be discredited,” Rhodes pointed out. “And the jails were controlled by the very people the FBI wanted to investigate.’

They could have gone to the LASD brass, but surmised that the sheriff “would not take well to such an endeavor.”

So, they launched a number of quiet strategies, one of which was an undercover sting involving informant and inmate Anthony Brown, who said that he knew deputies who would bring in contraband in return for money.

And so it was that deputy Gilbert Michele was paid by a supposed Brown confederate, but in fact an undercover FBI agent, to bring a cell phone to Brown inside Men’s Central Jail.

A week or so later, the cell phone was discovered by a deputy in a routine search, Brown was found to be a federal informant, and all hell broke loose after that.

As to who behaved reasonably and legally in the ensuing weeks, it depends on whether you favor the POV of the prosecution or that of the defense. (Or in the case of this trial, the multiple defenses—since there are six defendants involved.)

While the feds appear to be setting up a more detailed and contextual case for obstruction of justice, the various defense attorneys each built pieces of their collective case, which seemed to be a narrative of good cops following orders as they engaged in various forms of participation in what they depict as a perfectly legal investigation into the actions of Anthony Brown and his FBI handlers.

The trial is expected to last around three weeks.

ABC-7 was also at court today, so Reporter Miriam Hernandez and producer Lisa Hartley, as usual, have their own smart take on the story.

Here’s a clip (but be sure to watch the video of their broadcast):

….Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Lieutenant Steve Leavins, Sergeant Scott Craig, Sergeant Maricela Long, Deputy Mickey Manzo and Deputy Gerard Smith are accused of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for hiding inmate Anthony Brown after they learned he was secretly feeding information to the FBI about possible corruption and abuse by deputies inside the jails.

Sergeants Long and Craig are also accused of making false statements to the FBI. All six defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutor Liz Rhodes told jurors the FBI took a calculated risk by introducing a cellphone into Men’s Central Jail in the summer of 2011 so that Brown could report back to the FBI in real time. Federal investigators wanted more information about allegations they were hearing from inmates about beatings, assaults and other abuses inside the jails.

As part of an FBI sting, inmate Anthony Brown convinced Deputy Gilbert Michel to bring him a cellphone in return for a bribe of $1,500. Deputy Michel, who has since pleaded guilty to bribery, didn’t know that Brown’s “associate” on the outside was really an undercover FBI agent.

Brown’s phone was found on August 8, 2011, wrapped in a glove and stashed in a bag of Doritos. The investigation was initially low-priority for the Sheriff’s Department, a possible misdemeanor charge for Brown who was already facing 423 years in prison for a string of armed robberies.

But, according to Rhodes, once that phone was linked to the FBI and a widening federal investigation of the LASD and its jails, everything changed. Plans to ship Brown to state prison were suddenly scrapped, Brown was moved, his name was changed, he was guarded around the clock and the FBI was barred from LASD jails without approval from Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

In an email obtained by Eyewitness News, defendant Gerard Smith described the operation to fellow deputies as “one of the most important investigations involving the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in its 160 year history.” Smith told his colleagues that Brown was not to be moved, “without the presence of the following people: US Tanaka, ICIB Cpt. Tom Carey, ICIB Lt. Leavins, Lt. G. Thompson, Dep. G. Smith or Dep. M. Manzo.”

Rhodes told jurors the next phase of the operation was to “silence the witnesses,” including Deputy Gilbert Michel and inmate Anthony Brown.

Read and watch as there’s lots more.

29 Comments

  • Classic! Tanaka is blaming Baca. Leavins, Craig and Long are blaming Tanaka. Telling the jury of at least 10 meetings about hiding Anthony Brown, these meetings held in a room with blacked out windows. I can’t wait for Tanaka and Baca to be called to the stand. But maybe, as LASD#1 says, Tanaka will be a “stand up guy” for these folks and plead the 5th. You know, it is all about that “radio car of trust” now isn’t it? Absolutely classic, you will see the real Tanaka come out on this one folks.

  • Why do I suspect that the underlying reason for all of the splashy indictments is to maneuver the LASD into being subject to ANOTHER Federal consent decree similar to ones that virtually all of the major metropolitan law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are either under or have been under. The first trial (Deputy Sexton) resulted in a hung jury. How many more? And years later, when all of the litigation is finally concluded, will anyone remember what started it all. What I am intensely curious is to the fate of (hopefully former) Deputy Gilbert Michel…

  • The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is not only in the spotlight, it is a mix of a spectacle consisting of past Department Leaders with no backbone and a poor choice for anyone desiring to get into law enforcement.

  • Folks, say what you want about the other two Region 2 candidates but they’ve never been accused of outright violent threats against a reporter. This is beyond preposterous from a current Assistant Sheriff. I can only hope Sheriff Scott takes and “objective” look at what his boy’s accusers from the Hews Media Group have to say. Below is a taste: Briones went on to say that Herzog was “not a convicted felon.” “Herzog showed up to a fundraiser. Then Briones told Economy, “Todd will kill you if you publish these photos.”“This is a dumb story. If you print this, Todd Rogers will kill you. You do not want to go there. Why are you messing with this (situation),” Briones said. Definitely not radio car worthy. Loose canons aren’t allowed. Boomer!
    http://www.loscerritosnews.net

  • Anybody care to enlighten me as to why Galpin Ford would want to give 10 grand to Mc Donnell? “Late last month Galpin Motors Inc., on Roscoe Blvd in Van Nuys, gave $10,000 to the committee. Sources told HMG-CN that Galpin has a lucrative contract with the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Does this reek of special interests or is my sense of smell playing tricks on me? Boom!

  • Hi, I am a first time voter and follow this blog to gain knowledge about the current LA Sheriff Candidates. Here’s what I’ve learned. None of you get along. What is this Region 2 thing. Is it an elite force within your Department. From what this obnoxious poster named Boomer keeps posting, it must be something special. Well Mr Boomer, thanks for steering a first time voter into the arms of LB Chief Jim Mc Donnel. If all Sheriff’s are like you, your agency has problems.

  • And we wonder why LASD is the laughing stock of SoCal LE.

    We got boomer pounding his chest from the Watch Deps desk on AMs and another round of garbage in some form media.

    All cracks aside (Boomer you write well, but you know you have way too much free time to type these drawn out R2 escapades), why the hell are executives and ALADS reps not at these trials?!?

    Young deputies can find their way to Spring Street but the people who issued the orders and/or get paid to support seem to get lost along the way?

    Tanaka’s own words reveal he is only there because of the subpoenas. I wonder what he will do on June 3rd if they call him…. Not exactly a great place for candidate to be if he needs LA County voters.

  • A joke. A tragic comedy. That’s what the LASD has become. Disarray doesn’t begin to describe the condition of the LASD.
    Baca steps down in disgrace.
    Tanaka is involved neck deep in a caper that subordinates are on trial for.
    Olmsted gets in bed with Nalbandian.
    Hellmold switches parties at the eleventh hour and then proclaims “I’m the only democrat in the race”.
    Rogers’ campaign people are threatening reporters.
    ALADS is a total clusterfuck and as worthless as a union can get.

    The department that was once the best in the world is now the biggest joke.

    Now the ultimate political birdie McDonnell will gladly land on that sweet limb that will become his by default. All the old school LASD people who’s worst nightmare is to have an LAPD reject running the show better get comfortable with it. It’s going to happen. There’s the legacy of Baca. The educated guy, the progressive, the guy the media loved to love early on. He was a train wreck from day one and anybody with an ounce of common sense could see it. He ruined the LASD.

  • First time voter : I’m not telling you which candidate to vote for. But I have to say that it’s stupid and naive to be influence by what a few bloggers have to say on this website . How about you show up to the debates or do some real research on what each candidate has to bring to the table. Make up your own mind, Instead of relying on people’s opinions

  • #3: Your suspicions about a looming Federal consent Decree may be well-founded, and consent Decrees now have a new dimension, starting with the one up at Oakland:

    http://www.policemag.com/channel/patrol/news/2012/12/14/federal-judge-takes-over-oakland-police-department.aspx

    Up there, the Monitor not just reports to the Federal Judge: he has the power to promote, demote, transfer, and do all kinds of other stuff, as can be seen in the link I provided.

    Think about what THAT, done by a Federal Court, might do to LASD.

  • @9. No….ALADS is NOT a union. It’s an association that is basically a social club ran by a bunch of so called Republicans buying off Democrats. The funding by many being enjoyed by a few. ALADS and LASD are in the same sinking boat. Hey LASPA……throw them a life vest. Names don’t have to be named. ….they’re still the same people selling you air & alads decals for close to $100.00 a month.If deputies don’t demand changes it will always stay the same.

  • Who cares in Galpin  donated to McDonnell’s campaign. At least he doesn’t have people like Bernice Abram, Dan Cruz, indicted deputy Susie Ayala, and a host of other documented problem  former and current employees  backing him like Tanaka.

    http://efs.lacounty.gov/public_search_results.cfm?showall=yes&requesttimeout=1000&requesttimeout=1000%2C1000%2C1000%2C1000&rept_type=ALLCon&CITY=la&LNM_EXACT=yes&S_USER=%27ptanaka%27&SCHEDULE=A%2CB%2CC

  • Take a look at today’s LA Weekly for further on Todd Rogers. Here is an excerpt. “At the press conference at which he announced his resignation, Baca said that either Hellmold or Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers would be qualified to succeed him. Since then, however, Baca has soured on Rogers. Baca now considers Rogers to be a “back-stabber,” according to the source. In fact, Rogers is no longer even Baca’s second choice to be sheriff. If Hellmold does not win, Baca prefers James McDonnell, the Long Beach police chief.” Boomer!

  • Where is the contingency of ALADS reps for the C.J. Deps on trial. Do they have to be patrol trained in Region II for a moral booster. Step up ALADS or Step aside. You show up at the academy classes to recruit. ….How about skipping lunch with the politicians and make your presence known at this trial. You might laugh at some of the Tanaka backers with their “Tanaka Tee Shirts” but everyone knows that they are there. ALADS. …increase your presence or decrease our dues!

  • Boomer,
    Of course Baca wants Hellmold. That’s why he’s steered his donors to Hellmold. Jimmy is Baca’s puppet and always has been. I’m quite sure that Baca thinks if Hellmold gets elected he (Baca) will still be a relevant part of the LASD and have some kind of input on decisions.
    That’s obvious to even the dullest knife in the drawer.
    So what is your point in #14?
    Of course he hates Rogers now. Rogers is bad mouthing Baca so he can appear like he’s been wanting reform all along. Same reason Baca now hates Tanaka. He sees those two as unloyal back stabbers.
    I’m surprised that such a bitchin cop as yourself would throw #14 out there like it’s some kind of news that we should be aware of.

  • Todd Rogers is not what he appears. He’s also been shaking deputies down for money for years. I’ve lost all respect for him.

  • Folks take a step back, look at what we have in our line up:
    Hellmold, who can drive a car, smile nicely, but can’t find drugs in a drug store.
    Todd Rogers- An expert at throwing knife, and threatening people who climb the ladder courtesy of Baca, but then demonstrated the knife technique
    Bob Olmstead- Doing an ok job until he he allowed Nalbanian onto his wagon and starting talking like Baca for a minute (let me influence the government on Syria.
    Mt T- For the sake of brevity…A narcissistic, ego maniac, who although is brilliant cannot see to diversify an army to gain support of the masses. He alone wanted to be king, and now he bows away from the throne of responsibility.
    And the outsider, who collects money and endorsements.
    In the real world the two who should come out of the election are Olmstead and McDonnell.
    My advise to Mr. Olmstead is to lose Nalbanian, he may have money, but his trash can if full of BS. Focus on the future. Leave the drama behind. Tell the people what you will do and do it! My Opinion only.

  • Todd Rodgers wouldn’t even help an LASD employee who is lowly on the totum poll when they asked Rodgers to help make things better at a certain patrol station. So how in the world would Rodgers want to help inmates who are the lowest of society.? Rodgers is just like Baca and Tanaka. Rodgers will see that this Tuesday.

  • #2, I’m not a Rogers supporter, but I always endeavor to check the source when people start accusing people of making comments without having proof to back it up. Interestingly enough, the same person who is accusing Todd Rogers of making threats was also accused of plage riding [EDITOR’S NOTE: plagiarizing?] several of his publications in recent months. He was condemned by the Mayor of Cerritos and experts on journalism all over southern California. His credibility is shot in my eyes. He demonstrated an inability to quote things accurately and professionally with respect to understanding the academic requirements. The writer also has demonstrated a history of misquoted in an effort to appear like he is a respectable journalist. I can’t believe a man who doesn’t quote people objectively and in a fair reasonable manner.

  • Mike J., You can’t blame First Time voter for reporting his observations accurately. Most members in LASD don’t get along. Most feel that if you don’t come from Region 2, you have nothing to contribute to patrol. There are constant dick slinging contest if a Deputy comes up with an idea to better how LASD services the community. If you are not out there drinking with the boys after work, you not on the team. I’m all fine and good with the comrade re but the department is very clique – is and it shows in a lot of media sites by way of the comments. I’ve read several articles that highlight deputies doing good work in the community on and off duty. And when I scroll down to the comments, I can quickly differentiate whether this deputy is liked by members of his department despite the good he is done or if commenter’s endeavor to take away the spotlight for no other reason than, “we just don’t like that guy.” I’ve found that LASD members, especially deputies, are their own worst enemy.

    Excellent observations FirstTimeVoter. Keep watching and learning about the culture of LASD.

  • What happened to the federal trial updates? We got updates on the first trial on a daily basis from WLA and channel-7, then they suddenly stopped on the 2nd trial. Is it because the federal is not going as planned for the feds?

  • EDITOR’S NOTE:

    We’ll have updates on Wednesday. I’m hoping to attend trial tomorrow and I know ABC-7 is going. (That may stimulate some others to attend.) If I don’t make it Tuesday, I will on Wed. which will be the gov’t’s last day, then we’ll see defense witnesses.

    To be honest, I wish I could be there everyday but it’s impossible for a tiny independent news outlet like WLA to drop everything for more than a month to solely cover two trials. (And larger outlets have their own limits in terms of coverage of a single issue.)

    But I promise we’ll catch up.

    Thanks for asking.

  • I was in down town L.A. earlier and the main news media is covering the Brian Stow case. Saw the media vans and helicopters in the area near the Federal Court House.

    Believe me, there will be coverage tomorrow morning. Please don’t forget to vote.

  • Seven go in tomorrow morning. …..One, maybe two standing tomorrow night. The future of LASD will be decided on the knowledge and information on all of the candidates. LOSERS> Have your suitcases ready. You know who you are. ALADS & Popa…….Get your funds ready for the next Sheriff. It’s a no – brainer ALADS. NO FOR TANAKA! DON’T BE STUPID OR YOU WILL LOSE OUT TO DESERTIFICATION. POPA……GOOD JOB! YOU TANAKA – PROOFED YOUR FUNDS AND ENDORSEMENT.

  • Gilbert Michele testified for two days how he was duped into smuggling a phone into the jail. He was told he would get $2000 each time he gave the phone to Anthony Brown, but this guy who is dumber than dirt got $700 the first time and $800 the second time–and his so called money man on the outside, Named “CJ” was actually an FBI agent. The cheapskate used his girlfriend Angela Caruso’s car to make the money pick ups, which was watched by aircraft and two other cameras inside the informants car. The FBI searched the apartment they shared and grilled her left and right. What a nice guy. Alas, he has another sympathetic rescuer coming with him to court. She is sort of a cross between Angeline and Anna Nichole Smith.

Leave a Comment