Updated at the bottom with info on two officials who are at large.

Federal authorities have indicted 17 18 current and former members of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department on a range of charges, including obstructing an investigation of abuse in the county jails, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

The federal charges also relate to two incidents of violence against county inmates, as well as unrelated mortgage fraud and gun charges, according to the sources. The highest ranking defendants are two lieutenants — Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins — according to a copy of one of the indictments, posted after the jump.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is scheduled to reveal more information at a 1 p.m. press conference. Sheriff Lee Baca is expected to hold his own press conference responding to the charges at 3:30 p.m.

The FBI has been investigating abuse of inmates in the county jails for more than two years. Among the allegations is that some in the department obstructed justice by relocating an inmate who was an FBI source.
Today's indictments figure to play an significant role in the upcoming election for L.A. County Sheriff.
Candidate Bob Olmsted, a retired commander making a long-shot bid, was quick to lay blame for the scandal at the feet of both of his top opponents, Baca and retired Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

“Today's arrests underscore the high level of corruption that has plagued the Sheriff's Department under the failed leadership of Sheriff Lee Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka,” Olmsted said in a statement. “It would be no surprise to me at all if there was a direct link between Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka and these arrested sheriff's regarding their actions of obstructing justice and their attempts to prevent the FBI from further investigating corruption inside the department.”

Here's the indictment relating to the obstruction charges. Other indictments were also filed involving civil rights abuses and mortgage fraud. More to come.

Sheriff Jail Abuse Federal Indictment

[Added at 2:30 p.m.]: At a news conference this afternoon, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said that although no Sheriff's Department higher-ups were charged, “the incidents did not take place in a vacuum.” Birotte also said that some of the abuses outlined in the indictments had become “institutionalized.”

The 18 defendants were charged in five separate cases, two of which involve inmate abuses. Among the most notable incidents is one from June 2011, when the Austrian consul general was placed in handcuffs while visiting an Austrian national in county jail — an apparent violation of diplomatic protections.

Birotte also alleged that during the dispute about the jail informant, sheriff's deputies came to the home of an FBI agent and threatened to arrest her.

Birotte was repeatedly asked about Baca's role in these incidents, but he declined to comment, except to say that “the investigation is ongoing.”

Outside the federal building, candidate Bob Olmsted gave several media interviews. “This is just the first wave,” Olmsted predicted. “They're going after the low-lying fruit first… Everybody indicted today does not have the authority to do what they're accused of doing. This could not have happened without the top people knowing about it.”

Tanaka declined to comment.

LA Weekly