LEE BACA, DAY THREE: “WE’RE THE SUSPECTS”
There were several big moments in the third day of testimony in the trial of former Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca for the charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
One of those moments came with the testimony of one of Baca’s then closest colleagues, former Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo who told the court about a private conversation he had with Baca late one evening in the late summer of 2011. When Rhambo dropped into the former sheriff’s office, Baca began unloading to Rhambo how upset he was about the fact that the FBI had caused a contraband cell phone to be brought into the jail as part of an undercover investigation into corruption and brutality inside the county’s jail system. It is this investigation, of course, that Baca is accused of conspiring to obstruct with orders he gave to others that allegedly resulted in the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, threats made to FBI special agent Leah Marx, and attempts to tamper with potential witnesses to wrongdoing inside the county’s large, cholerically troubled jail system.
“He said, ‘They committed a crime!’” Rhambo told the jury. By they, Baca meant the FBI. According to Rhambo, Baca also expressed dismay that the U.S. Attorney’s office was doing their investigation without inviting him and the LASD to to be a partner in it.
“I told him, the feds are investigating. Don’t interfere.” Rhambo told WitnessLA outside the courthouse later. In court Rhambo, described how he explained to the sheriff that when he’d personally worked undercover, he and, in the course of an investigation, his colleagues might make large drug buys, or cause someone else to make such a buy. In certain instances, he said, “you break the law to enforce the law.’
“Don’t f— around with the feds.” Rhambo said he warned his boss. The FBI “is investigating us. They’re not going to cooperate with us. We’re the suspects.”
When Baca intimated some of his plans to investigate FBI agent, Leah Marx, Rhambo remembered being particularly firm.
“I said, ‘Don’t do that. That’s obstruction of justice.’”
THE SEXTON FACTOR
Instead of the street clothes that other witnesses wore for testimony, when former LA County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton took the stand, he was dressed in a bright white prison jumpsuit with a classic prison orange t-shirt visible underneath.
He did not walk on his own to the witness stand in the courtroom of U.S. district court judge Percy Anderson. Instead, a federal marshal escorted him as Sexton shuffled, his wrists cuffed behind him, down the court aisle. The marshal released the cuffs only when Sexton was seated.
The jumpsuit and the handcuffs caused jurors to grew instantly alert as they registered Sexton’s appearance.
Sexton, who is now 31, was a 25-year-old junior deputy during August and September of 2011 when the events took place that led to the charges against Lee Baca. He was also the lowest person on the food chain of the nine people who have thus far been convicted, or in one instance, pleaded to, the same charges of obstruction of justice that Baca is now fighting.
Former deputy Mickey Manzo, who was also convicted of obstruction of justice, testified on Thursday, finishing up on Friday. (More on Manzo in a separate story.)
Sexton is, however, the only person out of the obstruction group who has actually gone to prison. If Baca gave orders to obstruct justice as the prosecution claims, Sexton was visible evidence of the cost of following those orders.
(Mickey Manzo, who told the court he now works at the Home Depot, is to report to federal prison in January to begin his own 21 month sentence.)
Sexton testified that he worked for the LASD from February 2008 to 20014.
“When were you terminated” from the sheriff’s department? Fox asked.
“I was terminated,” said Sexton, “after I was convicted of obstruction of justice. I am here today because was lifted out of Talladega federal prison.” He is three months into a fifteen-month federal sentence, Sexton said.
Fox asked if Sexton is receiving any benefits for his testimony. Were any promises made?
“No benefits. No promises,” Sexton said grimly.
WHO IS IN CHARGE?
In the trial’s opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox described former sheriff Lee Baca as the “heartbeat,” and the “driving force” of the alleged conspiracy to “obstruct” the federal investigation into wrongdoing in the county’s jails, with actions that took place over six weeks in the summer of 2011.
Sexton’s testimony supported that thesis. According to Sexton, he was first brought on the team that was assigned to hide federal informant Anthony Brown in order to recommend ways to game the LA jails online system, so that inmate Anthony Brown would appear to have vanished from the county’s jails, but really would still be present, but stashed in an out-of-the-way facility so other members of law enforcement couldn’t find him.
Sexton’s boss was, at the time was Lt. Greg Thompson, who has been sentenced to 37 months in a federal prison, but who, like Manzo, has not yet gone into custody. Thompson was the man in charge of the operation of hiding Brown.
Thompson, said Sexton, gave a number of reasons as to why inmate Brown’s existence needed to be made to vanish from the jail database.
None of those reasons had anything to do with the safety of Anthony Brown, according to Sexton. (The defense has contended in their opening statement that the main reason for hiding Brown was to protect him when word got out that he was an FBI informant.)
“I was never briefed on that,” he said, making it clear that Brown’s safety was never discussed.
As to who was directing Thompson to hide federal informant Brown, Sexton said that Thompson, and senior deputies Mikey Manzo and Gerard Smith, repeatedly mentioned the “big bosses” asking for it. And that those big bosses were the undersheriff, Paul Tanaka and then sheriff Lee Baca
Sexton also said that both Smith and Manzo told him that they had briefed Tanaka and Baca on the whole matter of Anthony Brown, the contraband cell phone that was brought to Brown by an LASD deputy in return for a bribe, and the fact that Brown was an FBI informant.
Prosecutor Fox asked Sexton if he “volunteered” for the mission of hiding Anthony Brown?
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is a “paramilitary organization,” Sexton said. “You’re volun-told to do things in the LASD.”
Sexton told the court that the team guarding Brown worked many overtime hours at a time when “overtime was unheard of” in the department. There were only two people in the sheriff’s department that could have approved such an operation, Sexton said: “the undersheriff and the sheriff.”
Fox spent a portion of his questioning of Sexton asking the former deputy to describe the intricacies of the operation of hiding Brown, drawing out details that could best help the government build its thesis that the primary reason for the elaborate methods of hiding federal informant Brown was to keep him away from the feds, while teams of department members questioned Brown to find out what he’d been telling the FBI.
Sexton explained how he and a couple of other team members rebooked Brown under various aliases, and how they managed to keep the inmate/FBI informant from having to be fingerprinted each of the times he was “booked” under yet another phony name. Making certain that Brown dodged being Live Scanned was was necessary, Sexton explained, since had Brown been fingerprinted under the guise of any of his aliases this would instantly tell the system that “John Rodriguez,” “Kevin King,” and other manufactured inmate identities, were actually Anthony Brown.
At one point, prosecutor Fox asked Sexton about an email Sexton sent to Thompson, along with former deputies Smith, Manzo and other Brown-hiding team members. The subject head of the email was Operation Pandora’s Box referring to the Anthony Brown enterprise.
“You came up with that name?” Fox asked. What did it mean?
It was from Greek mythology, Sexton replied. Pandora opens the forbidden box releasing “evils and suffering” into the world.
“But the last thing in the box is hope,” he added softly.
ABSENCE OF BENEFITS
When it came time to cross-examine Sexton, defense attorney Tinos Diamantatos, continued to try to get Sexton to admit he had an ulterior motive for testifying..
You received no benefit from the government for your testimony? Diamantatos asked Sexton, his tone skeptical.
Sexton paused for a beat allowing the jury to once again take in his prison pallor and his oversized prison jumpsuit. “I have a hard time seeing how this could benefit me, ” he said,
The defense attorney also pushed for Sexton to say that Paul Tanaka had been the one directing the actions of the various teams. Diamantatos noted that Sexton had characterized both Tanaka and Baca as running the show, but he had never been at the meetings with the two then top guys when the various operations were discussed, had he?
No, said sexton but his boss and his two supervising deputies had, and told him about the meetings in detail.
“I was 25 years old and a junior deputy in a paramilitary organization in which you have to trust your superiors. And I trusted what they told me”
There were also only two people in the sheriff’s department who could have caused the formation of the three teams to carry out the actions that formed the basis for the obstruction charges, Sexton told the court. And those two people were the sheriff and the undersheriff.
At the very end Sexton’s testimony lead government prosecutor Fox showed the former deputy a document that he also projected on the courtroom’s various video monitors for the jury to see.
It was Sexton’s performance evaluation of his work for the department from 2010-2011. The former deputy struggled visibly for control as he stared the evidence of his once-bright future with the Los Angeles Sheriff Department.
What rating were you given? Fox asked him.
Sexton cleared his throat. “Outstanding,” he said.
When Baca, his wife Carol, and his attorneys left the courthouse on Friday, he looked more shaken than on the previous two days of testimony.
Testimony continues Tuesday, December 13, with FBI special agent, David Dahle, former LASD deputy Tara Adams, former deputy Gilbert Michel, Deputy William Courson, and security specialist, Mike Hannemann.
If time permits, former L.A. Times reporter Robert Faturechi may be called to testify late on Tuesday. Otherwise Faturechi is likely to be first up on Wednesday.
Tanaka and Baca could both of learn a little about humility and honor from Sexton. The FBI just scraped the top layer of corruption within the Department. It could not have existed without the tacit approval and acquiescing of responsibility by all those in the chain of command. Thank you all so much….Sexton is doing your time!
Cecil Rhambo, now there is a real piece of shit for you. As always, everything Cecil does is self-serving, his testimony is no different. He was the A/S of Custody after Cavanaugh had his ass handed to him. Did Cecil go to Little Paul and impart his concerns about Pandora’s Box? Of course not, Cecil was to busy polishing Paul’s shoes, giving him that ELA shine, lighting his cigar and slapping him on the back. Cecil’s honest abilities plateaued as an EM W/C, but he jumped on the well known R-II “Soul Train,” along with many other social promotions who failed and failed big time.
I hope Baca was shamed to see Sexton led into the courtroom in a federal prison jumpsuit and shackles. I hope Baca soaked every word of his testimony. I hope Baca went home and sat in a darken room and cried for Sexton while he recited Core Values. And I hope the jury convicts Baca, twice. And then I hope Judge Anderson slams Baca, hard. Slams him for destroying LASD and slams him for allowing little Paul Tanaka to corrupt LASD beyond anyone’s comprehension. Leroy and Paul, you two are scum and your day of reckoning is coming .
There are 2 sides to every story. It does not sound good for Baca so far, but let’s hear his side.
As for the other convicted 7 criminals, sounds like they are filing of reams of paper that has not done them good so far.
Hmmm, I wonder if Rhambo made the same firm comment (“Don’t do that. That’s Obstruction of Justice.”), to his BFF, Tanaka?
Sexton is the only one of them that truly doesn’t belong in prison. I don’t care what you say he didn’t deserve to go to jail. He didn’t get a fair second trial. The jury heard a butchered testimony and the prosecution knows it. If I had been the prosecution I would have been embarrassed to put his clean record up for all to see!! Im sure the jury was wondering why is he in jail? He is serving his time and with dignity. Life is too short to spend years trying to fight a corrupt bunch of assholes. He may be filing his papers too but he has been the only one to man up. Oh, by the way how do you take a federal bribe, smuggle a phone into the prison and give it to a convict and only get 6 months in jail???? Something’s not right with this system and it needs to change!!
Baca and Tanaka are getting what they deserve. Baca was warned on several occasions about Tanaka, but did not listen to lowly members of his staff. I didn,t smoke Tanaks cigars so I was out. May the two of them puff on fake cigars as they spend their retirement years in jail.
Rhambo is full of it. He would never have stood up to the Sheriff like that. He was a Tanaka yes man…. plain and simple. How he got out of all this is anybody’s guess. Cecil… you are a POS
@2 “Calling it a spade”
I also hope that Dr. Baca was able to appreciate and understand the gravity of former deputy Sexton’s position and understand that it was the result of his misplaced zeal to frustrate the FBI investigation.
I’m not so sure that there would be much value to him reciting the core values (at least the version implemented on his watch). That version of the core values red like something I would expect from Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book.”
Sherman Block’s version of the core values prominently included “Reverence for Life” as a core value. Dr. Baca removed it from his version of the core values. I asked a few folks in senior positions what was wrong with that value and why was it removed. I never got more that a “don’t be a troublemaker” type of response. To this day, I never learned the reason for the removal. If anyone knows the reason, I’d sure like to hear it.
Looney Leroy has got to be wondering what happened. The ACLU loved him. The LA press loved him. The progressives that run LA loved him. The LGBT community loved him. The Muslim community loved him. He dazzled his fans with his New Age mumbo jumbo and held them spellbound with his vision for new millennium law enforcement. He was warm and caring. He was their version of everything they want in a sheriff. Leading the parades, giving the speeches, traveling the world spreading his message. He was a genuine big shot with a platform!
Then they dropped him quicker than a millionaire drops a fat chick.
Hey Leroy, here’s what happened. You’re a fucking idiot. You weren’t worth a shit as a cop. You got in way over your head. Then while all the leg humping punks were kissing your ass, you weren’t even smart enough to realize that they were telling you how fucking brilliant you are because they wanted something from you. You’re so fucking stupid and ego driven that you thought they wanted to be your friend because you were really really smart and a super cool sheriff.
Yes Moonbeam, the joke was on the LASD for 15 years. Now the joke is on you pal.
Where are all your loyal, dedicated followers now Leroy? Anybody banging down your door to seek your sage advice and counsel? Been to any of the LA big shot’s retirement lately? Phone still ringing off the hook for speaking engagements? Or has karma and the real world bitch slapped you back to reality?
@2 Spade, I second your second paragraph! But I doubt that Baca has enough compassion to go in to a room and cry for one of his own. He was always more concerned with publicly making himself look good by “showing” compassion his for the downtrodden.
What one does in private is the mark of the real man. We all know what kind of real man Baca is.
“Call it a spade,” what the heck is the well known Region II “Soul Train?” Is that like a dance show for deputies or public transportation from the grassy knoll?
It’s official department policy, Curious. Black sworn employees are roughly ten percent of the department, and they will always be ten percent or more of promotions, no matter how unqualified, or qualified, they may be. They can even bomb promotional exams, their scores are whatever department execs want them to be.
Just ask Curtis Spear, Ronnie Williams, Joey Fennell, Reggie Gautt, April Tardy,or Sonia Caroll.
Yep, karma is a b. There are still sworn who are bullies, and what goes around comes around. Maybe your little child will get it back worse when they grow up by some bully they work with. You bully other sheriff personnel. I guarantee it will come back worst to yours. You coward! You can also believe Baca is just as quilty as Tanaka. They were real tight BFF at one time, look at them now.
#11 Don’t be silly,it’s pretty obvious L.A.’s attempts at diversity in the upper ranks of law enforcement hasn’t exactly panned out. Willy Williams, Banard Parks, and now Lee Baca funny, the top spots are again dominated by white guys, isn’t that odd? Maybe you should stick with spell checking.
with defense attorneys representing Lee Baca like Tinos Diamantatos, who even needs enemies?
Baca – are they charging you for Diamantatos’ hotel and travel per diem coming out from Chicago, on top of his hourly base rate?
If so, then you are getting fleeced and churned.
Lee Baca ain’t no hero to Sexton, but that doesn’t mean Sexton is loving on the USDOJ right now – considering how they are exploiting him after they bent him over every which way and took their liberties.
Maybe Diamantatos is suffering temporary brain damage from too much hair spray and too much time getting manicures at the nail salon, but he keeps probing Sexton for signs of a quid pro quo from the Feds and Sexton already layed it out for him on a platter for the taking during the prosecutor’s opening.
Sexton – “I am here today because I was LIFTED OUT OF TALLADEGA federal prison”
Now why did they send their witness to a facility so far away from the trial venue?
Because Sexton is an ALabama boy and he’s got 12 more months in the FedPen which is a lot easier when your family lives right down the road.
They did not explicitly offer quid pro quo to Sexton, but they can house him anywhere in their system.
They chose to send him back to home soil.
And the unspoken implicit inducement/threat is ‘if you perform good for us, you go back to ‘Bama. If not, then all bets are off. Maybe we have space for you in upstate New York in the middle of winter where the guards and the inmates all Yankees’
I confess, the more i read about Sexton – the more impressed I become.
not only is he more honorable than any one else in the courtroom, from the judges bench on down, he may just be smarter than any one of them, too.
As for Baca’s team – Hochman and Diamantatos – they can’t really be so dense.
You can thank Sexton for administering their loyalty test in open court.
Baca is surrounded by slick hired guns riding on Trojan Horses
working towards the same results as the Prosecutor.
Sell Baca down the river. And charge him an arm and a leg for doing it. Despicable.
Fire them tonite.
I hope all you naysayers watched HBO Vice tonight. They had a segment on Sexton!! I want to know why the others aren’t in jail and why they are still working at LASD??? The whole system is corrupt the prosecution, FEDS, BACA, TAnaka and the rest of the low life’s at LASD and ALADS that allowed this to happen!!
Having worked with Sexton, I can truly say he is an honorable, intelligent and honest man. I was, and continue to be, very sad by what his “supervisors” did to him. Despite all of this, I am absolutely sure he will be the only one to remain honorable throughout his ordeal. Shame on you thompson, tanaka and baca.
Yep, many corrupt and dishonest people in the dept. supervisors don’t give a damn about the policy unless they have it in for someone and then they will use it against them. My heart goes out to Sexton. I wish him all the best.
@allisonbee you don’t know what the hell you are talking about!!! Most people try to get close to family when in prison he is NOT getting special treatment because he went close to home. You also no nothing about the conditions he is living with. The only thing right you said was he was honorable.
Not only was Sexton duped by the Feds, but he was betrayed by Lt. Greg Thompson, who incidentally should have went to prison when he was working Lynwood Station. Ex Alads President Floyd Hayhurst gave Sexton the sham-a-lam to deny him legal representation. Both Thompson and Hayhurst were Tanaka loyalists.
The LASD of the past 20 years is a sham and a shame. The Region II Soul Train is as real as ever. Rhambo, and “Rap Master” Ronnie Williams and their ilk ran this department into the ground with Tanaka holding the reins. (Anyone remember the Pasadena mayoral election scandal and Willam’s helping to cover things up with Little Paul’s blessing?) Tanaka created a culture where supervisors use young and inexperienced deputies as “yes men” who will do their bidding and take the fall for them. Just promise that deputy a spot at Lennox (Ooops, South LA), Compton or Century, then off to GET or OSS or something just as cool. The top heavy mess that is our department (Hello Transit Policing Division with a chief, 2 commanders, 3 captains and half million lieutenants) with a culture of promote based on where you worked and what you look like and not how you perform is what Baca and Tanaka has given the County. But, that being said, that’s what the public really wants.
Speaking of Transit Policing Division, You know, the one losing the $600 million contract due to failed leadership. So called Chief Anda-Thomas has a staff meeting and stares out into outer space and tells everyone, “We did nothing wrong, we did nothing wrong.” Oh really Ronene? Then why did all of the Metro Audits say your leadership sucked and your policing program sucked, and your deputies weren’t doing there job? Perhaps Captains Bateman and Schow weren’t strong enough? Sheriff Jim McD, this group completely let you down. This has been the biggest blunder of your Sheriff’s career. These people let you down and embarrassed you. Don’t think for a second this won’t be exploited in 2018, because it will. Great Job Ronene..Awesome Chief leadership. But don’t worry, “you did nothing wrong.” Way to take responsibility too. I’m impressed!
This is totally out of right field I know but just got back watching Rogue 1 with my kids . Is it just me ?? I swear
Lee Roy Baca was playing Grand Moff Tarkin!!!!
Character witnesses? “Character” is something that Lee Baca is, not what he has.
Just take a look at the scandals that have been a part of his reign as Sheriff. Actually, it even starts before he was Sheriff when he was running against Block (who he said he would never run against). He offered old Sherm “deal” if Block would drop out of the race (http://articles.latimes.com/1998/apr/29/local/me-44679) and then he denies it. Then he lies to the Times on several occasions prior to the election to the point that the Times can’t bring themselves to endorse him – although they had tried for years to oust Block – ( http://articles.latimes.com/1998/oct/25/opinion/op-35908). Then it was he who started promoting those who helped get him elected and those who contributed to his campaigns (http://articles.latimes.com/2006/may/07/local/me-baca7/5). Oh, and BTW, Block discouraged Department members from contributing to his campaigns. (Didn’t I read in @10 “Full Circle” it is the measure of a man what he does when no one is looking?) Then there was the letter to President Clinton asking for a pardon of Carlos Vignali, a Minnisota drug king-pin and son of one of Baca’s well-healed campaign backers (well he sorta admits it – http://articles.latimes.com/2001/feb/23/news/mn-29176. Then there was the hiring of his pal Mike Yamaki and the most Honorable Bishop Turner (http://abc7.com/archive/9414026/ ; & http://abc7.com/news/da-declines-to-file-charges-against-former-lasd-sheriff-bishop-turner/1364578/).
One could go on and on (did I mention his Doctoral thesis? ( http://www.laweekly.com/news/why-did-sheriff-lee-baca-want-to-keep-fathers-who-molest-their-daughters-out-of-jail-2390400) but the point is made for the jury.
So Jury, when it comes to the question of Character. You’ve GOT to be kidding!!!!
Amazed that no commenters here post under their real name. Honest question, is the LASD really an organization ruled by such paranoia that the troops can’t band together and speak as a force?
As an average citizen thay is really disheartening.
Long Gone, I couldn’t agree more with your observations as to Baca”s character, clearly flawed. Of course, as you know, there are many other examples of his & his team”s challenged ethics. One of the fundamental inquiries should be about those who enabled Lee Baca to being Sheriff. With Lee”s internal reputation of being a profoundly weak manager, lacking focus & followthrough, who would choose him to be their leader? The answer is abundantly clear, personal gain. Just look at the initial cabal, all at their Peter Principal top rank with Sherm Block & Mike Graham being the impediment. I would love to have a round table discussion with Paul Myron, Bill Stonich, Paul Tanaka, Larry Waldie, Doyle Campbell, et al as to their thinking. Look at what they left as a legacy. An annual Walk of Shame should be held in their honor as a reminder of selfishness!
@jimhitchcock perhaps people choose to remain anonymous because there are too many still working at LASD that could do them harm. Look what happened to Sexton he was branded a “snitch” and they not only retaliated against him physically but they went after his character and ultimately they made sure he did jail time. Sexton tried to sink the ship but he was alone trying. I guess the others were scared physically, of losing their job (they have families), or going to jail. This ship will blow up it isn’t a matter of if but when. ALADS THEY ARE COMING FOR YOU TOO!!!
# 15 allisonbee tokalas, quick fact check on James Sexton. Sexton was sentenced by Judge Anderson in December of 2014 and Judge Anderson recommended Sexton be housed in Alabama per the defendants request. He was later designated by BOP to Talladega. Of all the former LASD personnel heading to the custody of BOP, I don’t believe two have been designated to the same facility. Another fact you might want to review before you talk quid pro quo or an implicit inducement is that Sexton has been housed in maximum security facilities or Secure Housing Unit Facilities for ALL but 30 days of his almost four months served. Let me state that even more clearly. Sexton has served thirty days has a minimum security inmate the rest in Maximum Security Facilities or SHU’s. Sexton has been transfered through 10 different facilities. Great inducement prior to being put on display in a prison jump suit and shackles.
The Past, that round table conversation would be short. The truth is, they ALL got what they wanted, at the expense of LASD being trashed, disgraced, embarrassed, exposed and ruined. Everyone of those names just kept Baca at bay, feeding him his wonder pills to keep him calm, golf clapped at every fart he let, continually told him he was a genus and lied to him at every opportunity. And then when the first three retired as the U/S, they gave the keys to Little Paul, knowing full well what he has been doing and more so, what he was going to do; turn LASD into the Tanaka Crime Family. And now, I’ve lost count, 20+ deputies, sergeants and lieutenants heading to Federal prison behind Pandora’s Box? Yea, Myron, Stonich and Waldie, now there is a group of real leaders for you. LACERA treats them quite well, LASD is in shambles, Tanaka is heading off for a 5 year stretch in the Big House with their leader, Looney Leroy right behind.
The Past, those three have no shame. That round table discussion would result in nothing more than ego strokes. Blood is on all of their hands, yet they could care less. They got everything they wanted.
Pretty much what I figured, Matt…understandable if a bit depressing.
I’m guessing that the way this blog has evolved wasn’t exactly what Celeste intended, but hooray for her giving you guys a place to sound off.
The description you give is right on. How about the brass that knew this as well as you and kept promoting him ?