U.S. Agent Guilty of Sex With Minor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before the illicit relationship with his best friend's 16-year-old daughter was discovered--an affair that led to his conviction Friday on sex and drug charges--U.S. Secret Service Agent Timothy John O'Brien lived the good life.

At work, he had reached the top rungs of his profession--the presidential detail. O'Brien was assigned to protect the Bel-Air home of former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy.

Off-duty, O'Brien drove a motorcycle and a red 1974 Fiat Spyder and lived in a house in Hermosa Beach about a mile from the shore.

Last December, however, Hermosa Beach police arrested O'Brien. And on Friday, the 38-year-old agent was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court of four felonies that could send him to state prison for five years.

Judge William Pounders immediately ordered O'Brien--who had been free on $500,000 bail--to jail, saying he was a flight risk.

Jurors convicted O'Brien of unlawful sex with a minor, oral copulation with a minor, unlawful penetration of a minor and possession of methamphetamine. Jurors also convicted him of a sole misdemeanor count, resisting arrest.

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After 3 1/2 days of deliberations, however, jurors were unable to reach verdicts on three other counts: sodomy with a minor, furnishing methamphetamine to a minor and brandishing a gun.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Rosenthal, who in court had called O'Brien a "predator," said prosecutors would decide by the sentencing hearing, set for Sept. 18, whether to seek a retrial on those three charges. He declined to comment further.

Jim Bauer, the special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Los Angeles office, said O'Brien has been suspended without pay pending an internal review and added: "We regret the pain he has caused his victims and his family."

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Defense attorney Jim Blatt said he was disappointed by the verdicts, but said it could have been worse. If convicted on all counts, O'Brien faced up to 17 years in prison, Blatt said.

Blatt said he spoke to jurors after the verdicts were read and they "indicated to me that there were no winners in this case. Everyone lost."

O'Brien had been a Secret Service agent for six years. He had been transferred to the Reagan detail last year, Bauer said.

After he moved to Los Angeles in 1994, O'Brien and a girlfriend settled into a two-story home on Prospect Street in Hermosa Beach. Next door was a house identical in style.

The two homes had a common walkway, and O'Brien fast became best friends with the man next door, a handyman who is now 42. The two of them would tinker over the Fiat for hours, the neighbor's ex-wife--and girl's stepmother--said in an interview Friday.

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For two years, O'Brien and the girl were merely acquaintances, according to Rosenthal. However, the prosecutor alleged that the friendship led to flirting, then to kissing, then to fondling and sex.

Rosenthal alleged that O'Brien took advantage of the girl's position in a troubled family.

The prosecutor also alleged that O'Brien gave the girl methamphetamine.

O'Brien was arrested Dec. 11, about a month after the affair came to light, prosecutors said.

The defense alleged that the father framed O'Brien after a falling-out. The defense further maintained that O'Brien never took drugs.

In addition, the defense contended that the teenager pursued the agent, not the other way around.

In mash notes that were entered into evidence, the girl put paper to pen to say: "Wonder how long I can hold out." She also wrote: "All you do makes me crazy." And: "I'm turned to liquid falling to the floor you've walked on."

The teenager, Blatt said Friday after leaving court, "wrote passionate love notes, desired sexual relations and enjoyed them. To prosecute this man when he finally gives in to this temptation, I think perhaps it may be considered unfair."

Rosenthal argued to jurors, however, that the notes were proof not that the girl had carried a torch for O'Brien but that he had seduced her and she had then fallen in love with him.

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