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Trial of L.A. County sheriff's officials focuses on FBI encounters

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
At trial of L.A. County sheriff's officials, a sheriff's sergeant claims he was feigning outrage against FBI

A videotape of an encounter between two sheriff's sergeants and an FBI agent outside the agent's home, played in federal court Wednesday, showed a surprisingly polite exchange, even as the agent was advised she would soon be arrested.

The one-minute conversation is central to the federal government’s case against the two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricela Long, who are on trial with four other sheriff’s officials for allegedly obstructing an investigation into brutality and corruption in the Los Angeles County jails.

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

Craig testified Wednesday that sheriff’s officials were building a criminal case against the FBI agent, Leah Marx, and a colleague for introducing a cellphone into 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, that there was no more investigation to be done and that it culminates with it being reviewed by the district attorney.”

The district attorney’s office ultimately decided it did not have jurisdiction over the federal agents, Craig testified, and charges were never filed.

Prosecutors allege that Craig and Long tried to intimidate Marx by falsely claiming they were going to arrest her. They also allege that Craig and his supervisor, Lt. Stephen Leavins, tried to persuade a corrupt sheriff’s deputy not to cooperate with the FBI.

On Wednesday, Asst. U.S. Atty. Lizabeth Rhodes played an expletive-laced audiotape of Craig angrily criticizing the FBI’s attempt to interview the deputy, Gilbert Michel, at Michel’s home.

Craig testified earlier that he was feigning outrage as an interrogation technique to get Michel to warm up to him. Michel has pleaded guilty to smuggling the cellphone into the jail in exchange for a bribe.

“Were you outraged at the FBI’s conduct?” asked Craig's attorney, Michael Stone.

“No,” Craig replied.

For news on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, follow @cindychangLA.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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