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Opinion

Editorial: When McMuffin smuggling is a big deal

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Det. Mark Lillienfeld
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Lillienfeld testifies in 2007 during the first murder trial of music producer Phil Spector.
(Fred Prouser / AFP/Getty Images)

No point getting all bent out of shape over an Egg McMuffin, right? That was the gist of the reaction by Sheriff Alex Villanueva to concerns raised over his rehiring of a former deputy who was once banned from the Los Angeles County jail.

But there is indeed reason for concern when an ex-deputy improperly dons his old uniform, violates an agreement not to enter the jail and then sneaks contraband to an inmate, even if the forbidden package may have contained just a cup of coffee and a rubbery McDonald’s breakfast sandwich.

In case you missed last week’s story, Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian reported that sheriff’s detective Mark Lillienfeld retired several years ago and became an investigator for the district attorney. It was while he was working for the D.A. that he was videotaped last year in his tan-and-green sheriff’s uniform, entering Men’s Central Jail with a plastic bag that he reportedly left in the inmate chapel.

The prisoner who later took the bag said it contained coffee and the McDonald’s version of eggs benedict. The bag was apparently intended for a different inmate, who was acting as an informant in one of Lillienfeld’s D.A. investigations.

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The previous sheriff’s administration was concerned enough about the incident that it banned Lillienfeld from the jail and warned sheriff’s personnel not to allow him past security.

Despite that history — the breaking of the previous agreement not to enter the jail, the misuse of the uniform, the smuggling of contraband, the failure of the McMuffin hand-off — Villanueva rehired Lillienfeld this year on a temporary assignment, investigating public corruption.

The incident only serves to heighten concerns about Villanueva’s judgment in rehiring deputies (like Caren Carl Mandoyan) who had been terminated for cause by the prior administration.

Lillienfeld isn’t in that group of fired deputies, but he does have a fairly serious note in his file, as they say.

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As for the Egg McMuffin, and the suggestion that when push comes to shove a sandwich is no big deal, it’s important to keep in mind that sheriff’s personnel at the time of the incident had only one lucky inmate’s word about what actually was in the bag.

Remember that one corrupt sheriff’s deputy was sent to jail for two years for attempting to deliver a burrito containing 24 grams of black tar heroin to a man associated with Mexican Mafia while he was locked up at the Los Angeles airport courthouse. Burritos, Big Macs and similar food have been used numerous times to smuggle drugs, shivs and other dangerous items into jails.

Contraband in the jails is a serious issue. Even the smuggling of an Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee should not be taken lightly.


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