Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy convicted of trying to hide inmate in FBI jail-abuse probe

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LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was convicted Tuesday of trying to block a federal investigation of allegations of inmate abuse at county jails.

James Sexton was found guilty of federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He could face up to 15 years in prison.

His previous trial ended with a deadlocked jury in May.

Sexton is the last of seven sheriff's employees, including two lieutenants, who were charged with trying to keep an FBI informant from making contact with his handlers. The inmate was cooperating with an investigation into allegations of corruption and civil rights violations.

A deputy was bribed to smuggle an FBI cellphone to him, authorities said.

As part of the conspiracy, records were altered to make it appear as if the cooperator had been released, but he was re-booked under different names.

Prosecutors say for two weeks in 2011, the inmate was shifted from cell to cell to hide him from the FBI. Sexton allegedly altered jail computer records.

"As part of the conspiracy, records were altered to make it appear as if the cooperator had been released, but he was re-booked under different names," said a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.

Sexton changed the inmate's name and booking number in the jail computer system, prosecutors said.

The defense argued that Sexton was only following orders from higher-ups and was trying to protect the informant from other inmates and bad deputies. Six others, including a retired lieutenant, were convicted of the same charges in July and await sentencing.

All were members of the Sheriff's Department Operation Safe Jails Program or the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.

"This case involves a select group of sheriff's deputies who were tasked with ensuring safety and security within the jails, but they violated the law by trying to protect their department from federal scrutiny," Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said in a statement. "This case, which has now resulted the conviction of all seven charged, proves those who tarnish their badge and their oath will be brought to justice."

Sexton, two deputies, two sergeants and a lieutenant all remain with the Sheriff's Department, although they have been relieved of duty without pay.

Another deputy, Gilbert Michel, pleaded guilty in 2012 to bribery for accepting cash to smuggle the FBI cellphone to the informant. He's facing up to 10 years in prison.

Thirteen other deputies are awaiting trial on corruption charges.

The cases stem from a grand jury investigation that began in 2010 into allegations of abuse and corruption at county jails. Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka — who is now a candidate for sheriff — is a subject of the ongoing investigation.

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