LOS ANGELES (AP) — Six Los Angeles County sheriff's employees were convicted Monday of obstructing a federal investigation into the abuse of inmates at county jails.
After a week of deliberations, a federal jury convicted Lts. Stephen Leavins and Gregory Thompson, Sgts. Scott Craig and Maricela Long, and Deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
The crimes carry a potential sentence of 15 years in prison.
Craig and Long also were convicted of making false statements by telling an FBI agent involved in the investigation that she could face arrest. That charge carries a possible five-year sentence.
Thompson headed the sheriff's Operation Safe Jails Program, but he is retired. The others were relieved of duty without pay last December.
"The deputy sheriffs found guilty today participated in a scheme to thwart a federal grand jury investigation into violations of basic constitutional rights guaranteed to both prisoners and visitors to county jails," United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in a statement. "While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting on the false belief that they were above the law."
The Sheriff's Department did not immediately comment on the convictions but planned to issue a statement later in the day.
The six conspired to hide an inmate informant from the FBI so he couldn't testify about alleged guard brutality of inmates at county jails, prosecutors said.
Defense lawyers argued that the defendants simply followed orders from then-Sheriff Lee Baca.
The Sheriff's Department claimed the FBI informant, Anthony Brown, was repeatedly transferred to various jail cells in 2011 for his own protection from bad deputies after he was found with a smuggled FBI cellphone at the downtown Men's Central Jail. Jail records were changed to hide him under a different name.
But during his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maggie Carter told jurors the plan was to "silence the witness."
Another deputy, James Sexton, also was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, but that case ended in a mistrial in May after jurors deadlocked.
Yet another deputy, Gilbert Michel, pleaded guilty in 2012 to bribery for accepting cash to smuggle the FBI cellphone to the informant. He's facing up to 10 years in prison.
The cases stem from a grand jury investigation that began in 2010 into allegations of abuse and corruption at county jails. Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka — who is now a candidate for sheriff — is a subject of the ongoing investigation.