Jury sees tape of deputies confronting FBI agent in jail probe

Jury sees tape of deputies confronting FBI agent in jail probe

A videotaped encounter between two Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeants and an FBI agent shows a surprisingly polite exchange, even as the agent was advised that she would soon be arrested.

The one-minute piece of videotape played in federal court Wednesday is central to the federal government's case against the two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricela Long. They and four other sheriff's officials are on trial on charges of obstructing an investigation into brutality and corruption in Los Angeles County jails.

Last month, the trial of a seventh deputy on similar charges ended in a hung jury.

Craig testified Wednesday that sheriff's officials were building a criminal case against FBI Agent Leah Marx and her colleague for providing a cellphone to an inmate informant at Men's Central Jail.

When he spoke to Marx at her house, Craig said, he was trying to tell her "where this was going, the seriousness of it."

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to file charges against the federal agents, saying that it did not have jurisdiction over them.

Prosecutors allege that Craig and Long tried to intimidate Marx by falsely claiming they were going to arrest her. The wide-ranging federal investigation resulted in criminal charges against 21 sheriff's officials, including the seven charged with obstruction of justice.

In the Sept. 26, 2011, videotape, Craig and Long approached Marx as she arrived home. Craig told her that she was "a named suspect in a felony complaint" and that sheriff's officials were in the "process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant for you."

Despite the subject matter, the conversation was cordial, concluding with a cheerful "Absolutely" and "OK, thanks."

Also on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Lizabeth Rhodes played an expletive-laced audiotape of Craig criticizing the FBI's attempt to interview a corrupt deputy, Gilbert Michel, at Michel's home. In January 2012, Michel pleaded guilty to federal charges of smuggling a cellphone to the inmate informant in exchange for a bribe.

Craig testified that he was feigning outrage at the FBI as an interrogation technique to get Michel to warm up to him. But in cross-examination, Rhodes suggested that Craig's "disparaging" language encouraged Michel not to cooperate with the FBI.

cindy.chang@latimes.com

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