A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy indicted by a grand jury on allegations that he fabricated drug charges that sent a man to prison for four years will go on trial next week, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge said Monday.
Sean O'Donoghue, 36, has pleaded not guilty to seven felony counts of allegedly framing a man with possession of heroin and cocaine to cover up for a female informant who had thrown a bag of drugs on a Compton roof during a June 2001 raid. The informant, testifying before the grand jury, said O'Donoghue had asked her to ensure that drugs were on the premises during the raid, which was aimed at arresting a drug dealer who lived there.
On Monday, O'Donoghue, who has been suspended without pay, was ordered to return for trial on Oct. 28.
Vicki Podberesky, O'Donoghue's attorney, said her client has garnered more than 10 commendations during a 14-year career as a deputy. "He has an unblemished personnel file except for a traffic accident," she said.
The case, Podberesky said, boils down to "who threw the dope on the roof."
At a grand jury session in May, the informant, Leticia Villa, testified that she was a drug runner who agreed to an arrangement with O'Donoghue to set up a drug dealer she worked for.
O'Donoghue and several deputies from the sheriff's Compton narcotics squad on June 26, 2001, raided two homes in the 12800 block of Harris Avenue. As the deputies entered the houses with guns drawn, Villa testified, she was unprepared and decided to throw the drugs on the roof so that it wasn't "too obvious" to fellow participants in the drug operation.
However, Deputy April Carter told the grand jury that she was standing alongside O'Donoghue during the raid and saw Villa hurl the drugs. "She tossed the dope," Carter testified that she screamed to her colleagues.
Villa, who has four felony drug-related convictions, told grand jurors she informed O'Donoghue moments later when they were alone that the "lady deputy had seen me throw it."
Nonetheless, she testified, O'Donoghue assured her that she need not worry because another resident of the house -- not the initial target of the raid -- was "going to take the rap." O'Donoghue filed a police report alleging that it was Reyes Cardenas who had the drugs.
County prosecutors allege that O'Donoghue falsified the report and a search warrant.
After his arrest, Cardenas faced the possibility of 13 years in state prison. In August 2001, Cardenas pleaded no contest to drug possession. He told the grand jury in May that he had "felt pressured" to enter the plea for a four-year prison term because of the lengthy sentence he could have received if he had gone to trial. He was released in May from a Norco prison after prosecutors dismissed his case following a sheriff's investigation into his arrest.
"Sean O'Donoghue falsified the police report," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Baker, who is prosecuting the case.
Baker said two others -- one of them a deputy -- heard Carter scream that the woman had thrown the drugs on the roof of the house.
"The man convicted is not the person seen throwing the dope on the roof," he said.
The Sheriff's Department probe began after a person who lived in one of the two homes alleged that $3,000 was missing from a backpack confiscated by sheriff's deputies at the scene. During their investigation, they uncovered the alleged fabrication by O'Donoghue.
O'Donoghue faces a maximum three years and eight months in prison if convicted of the crimes, which include perjury, filing a false police report and false imprisonment.
Carter told grand jurors that she had not known who was arrested in the incident until questioned months later by internal affairs investigators. She said deputies who had been at the scene later met twice to discuss the case.