Feds Charge 18 in Massive Corruption Probe of LA Sheriff’s Department

18 current and former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) were charged yesterday with federal crimes, accused of beating inmates and jail visitors and of obstructing the FBI investigation into corruption at the jail.  Others were charged with mortgage fraud and possessing an illegal weapon.

“Some members of the Sherriff’s Department considered themselves to be above the law,” said Los Angeles US Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr., who believes that  such misconduct had become “institutionalized” at the Department.

The charges were brought in four separate indictments and one criminal complaint.  Based on the far-flung charges in these five indictments, it is likely that more cases will be announced in the future.  The Feds have the LASD under a microscope, and any federal crimes they believe they find will be charged, regardless of whether they relate to official Sheriff’s business (like inmate abuse) or not (like mortgage fraud).  Now that the dam has broken, expect to see the District Attorney follow up with state indictments against other deputies whose alleged crimes were not federal offenses.

The cases announced yesterday are:

United States v. Thompson, et al.

Among the most shocking allegations are those in this six-count indictment, alleging that seven members of the LASD conspired to obstruct justice by interfering with an undercover FBI corruption probe.   The case began when deputies and two lieutenants at the Men’s Central Jail  learned that an inmate was an FBI informant cooperating in a federal corruption and civil rights investigation.

After learning that the cooperating inmate had paid a bribe to a deputy sheriff to get a cell phone, the defendants allegedly hid the inmate from federal authorities, who wanted him to testify before a federal grand jury. The indictment charges that the deputies altered official records to make it look like the inmate had been released, then re-booked him under a different name, and then told the inmate that the FBI had abandoned him. The deputies also allegedly tried to obtain an order from a state court judge that would have forced the FBI to reveal details about its undercover investigation to the LASD.  When that ploy failed, two LASD sergeants allegedly went to the residence of an FBI agent and tried to intimidate her into providing information, falsely telling her they were seeking a warrant for her arrest.

United States v. Gonzalez, et al.

This indictment charges a sergeant and four deputies with civil rights violations for arresting and beating visitors to the Men’s Central Jail in 2010 and 2011.  In one shocking allegation, deputies detained an Austrian consul general (who had diplomatic immunity) and his wife when they tried to visit an Austrian citizen in custody.  In another alleged incident, a visitor was beaten, suffered a broken arm and dislocated shoulder, and is permanently disabled.

United States v. Brunsting and Branum

This indictment charges two deputy sheriffs with civil rights violations and making false statements in reports, in order to cover up assaults of two inmates.

United States v. Piquette

This indictment charges one deputy with illegally possessing and manufacturing an assault rifle.

United States v. Khounthavong, et al.

This criminal complaint charges three deputies, brothers of each other, with a mortgage fraud scheme that appears to be unrelated to their official duties.  They are charged with making false statements and reports to  two banks in connection with two residential loans.  The scheme allegedly allowed the brothers to illegally avoid more than $340,000 in unpaid mortgage debt.

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