DCFS FBI Foster Care LA County Jail LASD Pandora's Box Paul Tanaka Sheriff Lee Baca The Feds U.S. Attorney

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial – Closing Arguments: Part 1

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon



Last December, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and related actions, an assignment that came, unofficially, to be be called “Operation Pandora’s Box.

In total, 20 members of the LA County sheriff’s department have been indicted as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption, a probe that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte described last year as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

In May of this year, Deputy James Sexton, one of the seven obstruction defendants, was tried separately. The result was a mistrial. The remaining six—deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins—are on trial now.

“Hide the informant, silence the witnesses, and threaten the federal investigator,” said prosecutor Maggie Carter on Friday morning as she laid out the government’s case in three hours of detailed chronology. “”The defendants declared war on a federal grand jury investigation. And they can’t do that.”

And so closing arguments began in the obstruction of justice and corruption trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of hiding a federal informant from his FBI handlers, endeavoring to prevent witnesses from cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and brutality in the LA County jails, and threatening an FBI agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys arguing in behalf of three of the six defendants, told the jury on Friday that the men they represented were following legal orders given them by then Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, orders that they had no cause to doubt, and that they were in no position to challenge or refuse.


The government, on the other hand, worked to show that each defendant made a conscious choice to participate in actions that deliberately and repeatedly attempted to derail a federal grand jury investigation into alleged widespread corruption and brutality inside the LA County jails, an investigation that included the undercover operation in which an LASD deputy smuggled a contraband cell phone to federal informant Anthony Brown in return for a bribe.

“They wanted to clean their own house,” said Carter of the LASD. Sheriff’s officials did not want another agency opening up their “Pandora’s Box,” which would release a multitude of ills, thus embarrassing the department,” Carter said. “Troubles would be exposed and the LASD would look bad.”

And so the defendants and others repeatedly—and illegally—threw rocks into the path of a federal investigation, according to the government.

KABC’s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez have an unusually good take on the first half of closing arguments that occurred on Friday and will conclude on Monday. Here are some clips:

Carter described to jurors how the discovery of a contraband cell phone at Men’s Central Jail in August of 2011 went from “not that big of a deal” to something one defendant called “the important investigation in LASD history.”

What changed? Sheriff’s Department investigators had linked the smuggled cellphone to the FBI and learned it was part of their federal civil rights investigation at the jail. FBI agents had recruited inmate Anthony Brown to become their informant. Brown would use the smuggled cellphone to report to his FBI handlers in real-time and document any brutality he witnessed by jail deputies.

Once the phone was found and Brown’s cover was blown, high-level meetings were convened, policies were rewritten, and unlimited overtime was authorized for a team of deputies tasked with guarding the inmate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is no real dispute in this case that inmate Brown was hidden, his name was changed and records were falsified. The question is why? What was the intent? Did the six defendants conspire to keep Brown away from his FBI handlers, and stop or delay his testimony before a federal grand jury? Or were they simply trying to guard Brown against possible retaliation from deputies and inmates who might view him as a snitch?

By late August 2011, “the witness tampering was in full swing,” according to Carter, who argued the defendants wanted to discourage witnesses from cooperating with the FBI.

In one recorded interview, Sgt. Scott Craig can be heard telling Deputy Gilbert Michel that the FBI is “screwing with you,” and “is going to manipulate you like you’re a (expletive) puppet.” Jurors heard Craig giving Michel a direct order: Do not talk to the FBI.

Three more defense arguments will be heard on Monday, after which prosecutor Brandon Fox will present the government’s rebuttal.



Here’s a clip from Newton’s excellent column:

Twenty years ago, in a closed court session convened to decide parental visitation issues for a young boy, a Los Angeles County social worker made a statement that startled even the judge. The social worker described a meeting on the boy’s situation in which a question was raised about whether a county report gave sufficient weight to allegations that the boy had been molested. At that point, she said, county lawyers intervened to warn that changing the report could raise “concerns for liability against the department.”

In this case, the social worker’s supervisor changed the report despite the warning. But the notion that county attorneys would raise an issue of financial liability when a child’s well-being was at stake disturbed the judge that day, according to a transcript of the session, and it continues to enrage the boy’s mother.

The proceeding, like almost all such hearings at the time, was not public, and I can only report on it now because the boy’s mother last week provided me with that transcript. (At her request, I’m withholding the names of those involved, because of the sensitivity of the subject.) Her son is now grown, but the shattering experience shadows his mother’s life even today, as does her lingering worry that the county might care more about protecting itself than it does about the best interests of children.

She’s not alone in that concern. The question of county counsel’s role in protecting children while also defending the county from liability remains at the center of a long quest to improve services for abused and neglected children in Los Angeles. The County Counsel’s office wouldn’t agree to talk to me about the issue, but as recently as April, a blue ribbon commission charged with looking at the county’s foster care system included this observation in its report: “Protection of the county from perceived liability at times trumps protecting children.”

I remember when I first sat in on a such a court session and was flabbergasted when I realized that there was an attorney for each one of the parents, an attorney for the kids, and a fourth attorney whose sole job it was to protect the interests of county, whether or not the county’s interests reflected those of the children involved.

A big thank you to Newton for focusing on this important issue.


  • WOW! Are we coming finally full circle on the issue of a public agency being worried so much about protecting itself and staff from criminal/civil liability it purportedly “neglected” it’s “chartered” duties. Critics (oftentimes the same one) are so quick to criticize public agencies and their employees for “over- stepping” their boundaries and trampling on their civil liberties. These critics often times find support in a frenzy of whirlwind media driven public opinion, lawsuits initiated by civil libertarian groups and more recently sympathetic court rulings. It is no wonder public agencies are in a defensive mode and have taken a risk management position to head off litigation, public opinion trials and unfavorable summary judgments against themselves and employees.

    If, “we the people” vote for the politicians and elected officials who make the laws for the courts to interpret and enforce it stands to reason, public agencies and officials will abide by and “work within the box” of rules “we the people” have put in place via our proxies in the legislature.

  • I don’t think there is any question these Deputies are guilty.

    It looks like abuse went on a long time at the jail and nobody did anything. These officers lied to the FBI, hid an informant and did all sorts of other things. Too bad they didn’t put that much energy into solving the illegal beatings and cover-ups.!

    If I remember correctly, in another article, one of the deputies was told to guard the cell at San Dimas station and not let “anyone” other than the Sheriff’s Dept get to the prisoner. Whats that tell you ?

  • Bernice Abrams – Wasn’t it Cecil who rolled down to Carson Station to pick her up and drive her away after she was caught in a street gang narcotics criminal enterprise on wire tapes?

    Joe Gooden – Wasn’t he Paul’s Lieutenant’s Aide about that time?

    Steve Leavins – Wasn’t he the Sergeant, that replaced Gooden as the Lieutenant’s Aide, even though he was a sergeant?

    Didn’t Gooden get promoted and placed at IAB about that time?

    Wasn’t Leavins’, shortly lived as Paul’s Sergeant’s (Lieutenant’s) Aide, promoted to Lieutenant and placed at ICIB about that time?

    City of Gardena – Aren’t they intimately involved with Paul?

    What ever happened to Abrams’ case??????

    Cecil is now working for the City of Carson. Is that anywhere near the City of Gardena? Local politics?????

    Did Leavins ever see a Station as a Watch Commander???
    He probably had a lot to take care of, I mean investigate, at ICIB??? Training up for Pandora, the most important investigation in the history of the LASD….

    Hey, I guess the above are all actually First Degree Paul Tanakas. (Cool, I was feelin a bit bad about dis’in Kevin Bacon)

    I wonder how many 1 – 6 Degrees of Paul were and are at IAB and ICIB???? Seeing as he never liked them much. Funny he would send his aides to those places…..

    I wonder how the 1 – 6 Degree Paul’s did on the promotional exams???? Seeing as I always heard Paul ran around saying (screaming), if you aren’t Band 1, find another home…. But, I guess if Paul, or any of 1 – 6 degree’ers’s are in your study group (providing exam info.) and you don’t make Band 1, then you should find a new home, because your memory is probably so bad that you couldn’t remember what Paul wanted you to take care of when he phones you????

  • Six degrees, you’ve merely scratched the surface. Paul’s filthy fingers are far reaching and those who followed aren’t giving up the ship. I’m not certain the recent moves will be enough to dampen their efforts. Considering more than half who were moved were not Paul backers, the end result doesn’t justify the effort.

    Sheriff Scott seems to be overwhelmed with his newfound position and is either grinding axes or taking advice from others with axes to grind. His moves are similar to the types of moves an angry Paul or a politically motivated Sheriff Baca would make. Additionally, the people he is taking care of seem to be those close to him.

  • Very true #3. Gooden like all other “Tanakaites” is an opportunist who sold his soul and integrity for a promotion. Say what you want about Tanaka but one thing he did extremely well was pin point those that could be easily manipulated and do his bidding without question.

  • All the ICIB brass consulted closely with County Counsel who gave them the legal green light to act as they did. Did agent Marx and Dalies (sic) do the same? These two agents were brand new and obsessed with making names for themselves in a big case. So, with neither of them admitted to ever working with an informant, they get a letter from a convicted felon facing life plus in prison an he is their contact man? Why not just assign a couple of agents to work the line in MCJ like the ACLU pretty much does? Because these agents just wanted to make names for themselves–and they risked many lives doing it.

  • How about fixing and salvaging what we actually have left and not stay fixated on those who are not longer sworn.Not to say that we forget about the Tanaka Circus, but allow Karma to come full circle. Regarding the LASD….FOCUS ON THE NEXT ONE AND NOT THE EX ONE.

  • #6 (Overkill): What is your slandering of the FBI agents based on? How do you know they were “obsessed with making a name for themselves”? You/we can’t argue deputies should get promoted on their merits (starting with hooking and booking) on the one hand and then ding the agents for doing just that for their employer. Phones are dangerous in jails; we get that. But that has little to do with the lengths folks went to here, and we all know it. This was about turf and pride and ego. LASD may have won the battle but it lost the war (its crown and its country).

  • Nothing good came out of the Tanaka 6 OSJ and ICIB operation all done to please their God, Paul Tanaka. “Whatever you want boss, just call.” The puppets did what they did to please Paul because they all thought there was something in it for them. Pure arrogance was displayed when Thompson stated to the IRC clerk, “Are you really going to say no to Paul Tanaka?” I know six people who wish they did. So regardless of how this turns out with the jury, what you folks did was Felony stupid and you went into this operation with your eyes wide open. Was the the price with it fellas? High fives and cigars? I seriously doubt it, you folks were played.

  • If they are found guilty they might go to prison. They might be sentenced to probation. Either way they won’t be cops anymore.
    They have been living with that stress for how long now?
    Obviously the price they have paid already wasn’t worth it to them.
    Even if they are found not guilty, and keep their jobs, Baca and Tanaka are gone. Paul Tanaka won’t be elected sheriff. He won’t be able to take care of them.
    If they are found not guilty, then the IA kicks in. They could still get fired. The feds might not be able to connect the dots for the jury or the jury may have sympathy because they were following orders and come back not guilty. That doesn’t mean their grief is over. There isn’t one deputy on the LASD that doesn’t know what’s up with this clusterf#%k they are on trial for. How do you think the IA will turn out? If they’re not fired, 30 days and demotions?
    It will be a long hard road to their next promotion. They have been exposed. They are forever branded by the vast majority of their peers as felony stupid and shameless ass kissers. They will carry the weight of this their entire careers.
    Except for Thompson. He already had to pull the plug. I’d venture to say he wasn’t real happy about the way he went out.

    They’ve already paid a huge price. They’ve lost their honor. There’s more to come.

  • This explains why there was a diversion and excessive bail for a deputy in an unfounded unrelated complaint about the same time. Too much focus to get eyes off Baca and onto something else.

  • I do not trust any sergeant, lieutenant and above, they are either incompetent, arrogant, stupid,etc…the system under Tanaka/Baca created a breed of unfit supervisors that will linger for many years to come…yes, I am generalizing, but it is now difficult to trust anyone…

  • I believe Sgt. Craig retired in April, which was posted on the retirement list and in STAR News. “Oh Well” you are correct regarding these LE’s losing their honor.

    I cannot imagine how the I.A. investigation will turn out if they are found not guilty.

  • The deputies under the rank of Sgt., should be exonerated by the department I.A. should they be found not guilty. Only Sheriff Scott COULD & SHOULD make it happen. They definitely were the least knowing of the possible severity if things were to go south (and they did).
    Since Baca was given immunity, He would live in legacy if he took the stand and not exactly, but in essence tell the jury……You’re damn right, I ordered the movement and hiding of inmate Brown and the verbal warning to FBI Agent Leah Marx, basically ending with ( at that time) I ran the Department as I deemed fit. That wouldn’t erase his few failures, but it would show some testicular strength as a parting note.
    The deputies in the trial should not have any problems on the department if found not guilty for following orders. If ALADS had any balls, (at the bare minimum) specifically Retired current board member FLOYD HAYHURST….. should have shown his face at the trial. ALADS take the dues, want the glory, and spin the story. No doubt ALADS will take the credit, should the deputies prevail. As far as the Sgt’s and above are concerned.Any leads that you thought you had on this department are dead.

  • #14,

    Great post. It’s tough for IA to make a point if a deputy is found not guilty for working with ICIB.

    As for Floyd, what a waste. I guess he had better things to don than watch deputies on trial for doing something they were ordered to do. I thought when you were retired it freed up your schedule a bit.

  • I think the deputies have suffered enough. Although at some point in time, you know they realized it wasn’t about Brown’s safety, Brown being a threat to anyone or any other excuse that was concocted by the brass. You know they had to wonder why Baca or Tanaka, or both, would be so worried about what Brown was telling the feds. You know they had to wonder if it what they were doing was kosher.
    I firmly believe they definitely do not belong in prison. At the same time I firmly believe they without a doubt knew that this was some kind of shamalama caper that could get ugly because the LASD was fucking with the feds.

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