Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been sentenced to three years in prison for obstructing an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran.
Updated 1 hr 22 mins ago
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been sentenced to three years in prison for obstructing an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran.
Baca, 74, was sentenced on Friday, two months after he was found guilty of obstructing justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to federal authorities.
The FBI was looking into possible wrongdoing within the jail system - specifically inmate abuse inside the men's central jail.
Baca has vowed to appeal his conviction - no matter his sentence.
Baca abruptly resigned in 2014 as the probe netted several underlings who plotted to hide an inmate informant from his FBI handler when they learned the jails were being investigated.
The crimes tarnished Baca's reputation as a man on a mission to promote education and rehabilitation behind bars and who preached tolerance and understanding between people of different cultures and faiths.
For more than 15 years, Lee Baca was one of Los Angeles' most prominent politicians and law enforcement leaders.
But on Wednesday, Baca's legacy as the former sheriff of Los Angeles County took a dark turn when he agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of making false statements as part of a sweeping federal investigation into corruption and abuse in his department.
Baca resigned under pressure in 2014. But the criminal charge still stunned some observers, who reacted with a mixture of disappointment and gratification that justice was served.
“It is an unfortunate end to lengthy career in public service,” said Richard E. Drooyan, general counsel to the Citizen Committee on Jail Violence that examined the misconduct inside the county system. “This is a very significant event to charge and convicted a sheriff at the highest level.”
“What this says is the Department of Justice viewed this as a systemic problem of violence and not just a problem with individual deputies. They wanted to hold people accountable all the way to the top,” Drooyan said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich added: “This sad saga is now over for Lee. Hopefully the remaining prosecutions will end shortly so the Sheriff's Department can move forward."
Peter Eliasberg, legal director of American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said Baca demonstrated arrogance and a belief that he was untouchable and ultimately he was caught not for the crimes of deputies abusing inmates, but for covering up those crimes.
“There were terrible things that went on in the jails for a long time," he said. “In terms of people in the jails, what happened to inmates was horrible. He is in large part to blame for that."
Chuck Jackson, a former sheriff’s chief who oversaw custody operations before the abuse allegations, said Baca contributed to his own downfall because he listened to and promoted the wrong people and they became his information network and advisors.
“Lee is loyal to a fault,” Jackson said.
Jackson said Baca did many good things to improve the department, but allowing his friends to do what they liked in the jails caught up with him. “It is too bad …. He got and made some bad decisions at the end of his career," he added.
In a plea agreement filed in federal court Wednesday morning, Baca admitted to lying twice about his involvement in hiding an inmate from FBI agents who were investigating brutality and corruption by sheriff's deputies in the county jails.
In fact, Baca ordered the inmate to be isolated, putting his second-in-command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, in charge of executing the plan, the agreement said.
Baca also admitted that he lied when he said that he was unaware that his subordinates planned to approach an FBI special agent at her home. In a meeting the day before that meeting, Baca directed the subordinates to approach the agent, stating that they should "do everything but put handcuffs" on her, the agreement said.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors have agreed not to seek a prison sentence of more than six months for Baca, said Eileen Decker, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, at a news conference Wednesday.
Baca's guilty plea "demonstrates that the illegal behavior in the Sheriff's Department went to the very top of this organization," Decker said. "More importantly, it illustrates that those who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture will be held accountable."
Former Sheriff Lee Baca was found guilty of obstructing an investigation into corruption within Los Angeles County jails.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was found guilty Wednesday afternoon in his retrial on obstructing an FBI investigation into corruption within his jails charges.
Baca was charged with helping to obstruct the 2011 FBI investigation into guards who savagely beat inmates in his jails and lying about trying to obstruct the probe.
The 74-year-old was found guilty on all three charges that he faced. Baca's charges carry up to 20 years in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
"This verdict sends a clear message that no one is above the law," acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said. "He knew right from wrong and he made the decision. That decision was to commit a crime."
Following the verdict, Baca thanked his family, friends, legal team and supporters.
"I disagree with the particular verdict," Baca said. "You've known me for a long time. I am a faith-based person. My mentality is always optimistic and I look forward to winning on appeal."
"I love the people of Los Angeles County. I love the United States of America and I love diversity," he continued. "It's just a privilege to be alive."
Baca did not take any questions following the verdict.
Wednesday was the jury's second full day of deliberations. A jury in Baca's first trial was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal and a mistrial was declared in December.
In closing arguments Monday at the second trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes said "when defendant Baca learned the FBI and a federal grand jury was investigating, he obstructed and when he learned the FBI has turned its focus on him, he lied."
According to Rhodes, the obstruction that led to convictions for many of Baca's underlings, including his top lieutenant, "started from the top and went all the way down."
Defense attorney Nathan Hochman told jurors they heard "no evidence Sheriff Baca gave orders to obstruct the FBI."
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy James Sexton, who testified against Baca at both trials, served four months in prison for his role in blocking the FBI probe.
He said the deputies were just following orders.
"Nobody wins when a verdict like this is delivered. Mr. Baca destroyed a lot beyond the public trust and law enforcement partnerships. The damage Baca caused to families and mindset of deputies just trying to do their job is immeasurable," Sexton said.
"Baca authored the LASD Core Values that demanded wisdom, common sense, integrity and courage. Today's verdict may have been averted if he had thought about those principles before issuing those orders in September of 2011," he continued.
Baca, who's in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, was a major national law enforcement figure and a mostly popular sheriff in his 15 years at the head of the nation's largest sheriff's department.
He resigned in 2014 as the scandal plagued the jail system.
Baca appeared to have escaped the fate of more than a dozen underlings indicted by federal prosecutors until a year ago, when he pleaded guilty to a single count of making false statements to federal authorities about what role he played in efforts to thwart the FBI.
A deal with prosecutors called for a sentence no greater than six months. When a judge rejected that as too lenient, Baca withdrew his guilty plea and prosecutors hit him with two additional charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.