Lee Baca

Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, center, leaves the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles after pleading guilty Wednesday to lying to federal investigators. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Joel Rubin, Cindy Chang and Harriet Ryan
February 10, 2016

Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying to federal investigators, a stunning reversal for the longtime law enforcement leader who for years insisted he played no role in the misconduct that tarnished his agency.

Baca’s plea in a downtown courtroom capped a string of prosecutions that began with low-ranking officials and worked up the chain of command.

His former No. 2, Paul Tanaka, is scheduled to stand trial in March on charges that he obstructed a federal investigation into brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the county jails.

In a plea agreement filed in federal court Wednesday morning, Baca admitted to lying twice about his involvement in hiding a jail inmate from FBI investigators. In fact, Baca ordered the inmate to be isolated, putting 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. 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 with Baca, prosecutors have agreed not to seek a prison sentence of more than six months, Eileen Decker, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said 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.”

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