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Former LA County Sheriff to Serve Three Years in Prison

by Derek Gilna

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced on May 12, 2017 to three years in federal prison for lying to federal officials investigating allegations of corruption, physical abuse, bribery and misconduct in the LA County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). The sentence brought to an end a lengthy prosecution that laid bare what U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson called a “blind obedience to a corrupt culture.”

 Baca, 74, was convicted by a jury after the court rejected a plea agreement that would have resulted in a six-month sentence. After his guilty plea was denied, Baca’s first trial ended in an 11-1 deadlock in favor of acquittal on obstruction charges; he was convicted at a second trial. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.34; March, 2016, p.1].

“This verdict sends a clear message that no one is above the law,” said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown. “He knew right from wrong and he made the decision. That decision was to commit a crime.”

A total of nine people, including Baca’s second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were convicted and received prison sentences in connection with what the FBI termed a long-running conspiracy to conceal evidence from a grand jury reviewing allegations of abuse by sheriff’s deputies. Another defendant, former LASD Capt. William “Tom” Carey, who pleaded guilty and testified against Baca, has not yet been sentenced.

The investigation began in 2011 when a guard at the Men’s Central Jail discovered a prisoner informant was relaying details about jail beatings to the FBI using a contraband cell phone. Jail officials tried to hide the informant by moving him from one facility to another under fake names; they also threatened an FBI agent with arrest.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes, the corruption “started from the top and went all the way down. When defendant Baca learned the FBI and a federal grand jury was investigating, he obstructed, and when he learned the FBI [had] turned its focus on him, he lied.” Judge Anderson rejected Baca’s defense that his deceptive statements stemmed from early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

“Your actions embarrass the thousands of men and women [in the LASD] who put their lives on the line every day. They were a gross abuse of the trust the public placed in you,” the judge said when he announced the three-year prison term. Baca had resigned from his position as sheriff in 2014.

Prison Legal News has extensively covered the LASD investigation, including numerous reports that jail guards beat prisoners without cause and engaged in systematic cover-ups of misconduct with the approval of their supervisors and top jail officials.