Lee Baca

To then-Sheriff Leroy ‘Lee’ Baca, it was a sucker punch and a betrayal by the FBI, his longtime partner in catching crooks.

By Lisa Bartley
Friday, May 08, 2015 – 11:00PM
LOS ANGELES (KABC) —

To then-Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca, it was a sucker punch and a betrayal by the FBI, his longtime partner in catching crooks. Federal investigators deliberately kept Baca in the dark as they set up a sting on the sheriff’s turf — Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

In an unprecedented standoff, the two mega-agencies did not communicate for weeks. Competing investigations ensued and seven deputies paid the price for overstepping their authority.

The blowback began with a phone call on a Thursday evening in August of 2011. The head of the FBI in Los Angeles, Steve Martinez, was on the line for Sheriff Baca. Martinez told Baca that a contraband cellphone found at Men’s Central Jail belonged to the FBI and was part of an undercover FBI investigation into civil rights abuses inside the jail.

Sheriff Baca didn’t take the news well. At first, he was confused. Martinez had to explain the situation three times before Baca seemed to grasp that the cellphone belonged to the FBI. Baca called Martinez back the next day, more “fired up,” angry and upset that he’d been kept in the dark.

SHERIFF LEROY BACA: You know… I didn’t start this fight, OK?

ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY BRANDON FOX: When you said just there that you didn’t start this fight… who started the fight?

SHERIFF LEROY BACA: Whoever decided to do all this and say that you can’t trust the sheriff even!

EYEWITNESS NEWS EXTRA: Raw audio of FBI interview with Sheriff Leroy Baca

FBI recordings and grand jury transcripts obtained by Eyewitness News shed new light on the federal probe that appears to be reaching higher up the LASD’s one-time chain of command. Multiple sources close to the case tell Eyewitness News that indictments of higher-ranking officials could come at any time.

If that proves true, the defendants will join seven lower-ranking LASD deputy sheriffs who were indicted in late 2013. Those seven deputies, sergeants and lieutenants were convicted last year of obstructing the FBI investigation and will face federal prison time if their appeals are denied.

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