A federal judge Thursday acquitted three Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies of conspiracy and fraud charges, finding prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to show the men had intended to defraud banks, according to attorneys.
The case involved three brothers who were among 18 sheriff's officials indicted in late 2013 in the federal government's wide-ranging corruption and brutality investigation, focusing mostly on the county's jails. The men were not accused of abusing inmates.
U.S. District Judge Manuel Real took the unusual step of making a mid-trial finding of acquittal for Billy, Benny and Johnny Khounthavong after prosecutors rested their case Thursday, finding no reasonable jury would convict the brothers.
FOR THE RECORD:
Deputies' fraud charges: In the Feb. 13 California section, an article about a fraud case against three L.A. County sheriff's deputies said that a judge threw out the charges. In fact, the judge made a finding of acquittal on all counts, ruling on a defense motion after prosecutors had presented their case before a jury.
Prosecutors had accused the Khounthavongs of having defrauded lenders in a "buy-and-bail" mortgage scheme to purchase a 3,900-square-foot Corona home in 2011 by lying on their application about a previous home on which they were hundreds of thousands of dollars underwater.
The brothers, they alleged, had lied on federal financial forms to dodge about $340,000 owed on their previous home and to obtain the second mortgage.
Authorities said at the time of the brothers' arrest that the mortgage fraud case was a "spinoff" of the grand jury investigation into civil rights abuses at the jails. Defense attorney Dominic Cantalupo said the fraud charges were brought after one of the brothers refused to cooperate with investigators and give information on other deputies in the jail investigation.
Real said from the bench that he saw no evidence that the brothers attempted to deceive the banks or that the lenders were harmed, and questioned why the FBI got involved when the banks hadn't complained, defense attorneys said.
"The judge's comments centered on the complete absence of any evidence of criminal intent," said attorney Adam Braun, who represented Benny Khounthavong.
Braun said there were mistakes in the Khounthavongs' mortgage application, but they had been inserted by a real estate broker without the brothers' knowledge, and bank representatives said the inaccurate figures did not influence their decision to lend.
Attorneys said Real made remarks about weaknesses in the government's case throughout the four-day trial, including noting that all but one witness had said they had no contact whatsoever with the brothers.
Court papers also indicate prosecutors attempted to discredit one of their own witnesses, who was testifying under a grant of immunity, when she gave conflicting accounts about her interaction with the brothers.
The brothers had faced up to five years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Margaret Carter said her office would take no further action because prosecutors could not appeal the judge's ruling.