Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca arrives at the downtown federal courthouse for a sentencing hearing. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
August 5, 2016
Days after withdrawing a guilty plea for lying during an FBI investigation into widespread abuses at the county jails, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was indicted Friday on more serious charges that could bring up to 20 years in prison.
The former sheriff, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, faces new charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements.
Friday’s indictment was the latest in an extraordinary series of events that began last month when a federal judge rejected a plea agreement limiting Baca’s prison time to six months on the single false statement charge.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said that was too lenient for the man who led the Sheriff’s Department during a period when deputies covered up for one another and violently attacked inmates.
On Monday, Baca failed to reach a new settlement with prosecutors and withdrew his guilty plea rather than let Anderson sentence him to up to five years, setting the stage for the new charges and a high-stakes trial.
In Friday’s indictment, prosecutors accuse Baca of “creating an environment” in which his subordinates viewed the FBI as an adversary and of tasking his second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, with carrying out the scheme to obstruct the federal investigation into brutality and corruption by jail deputies.
Michael Zweiback, one of Baca’s attorneys, called the indictment “weak” and said prosecutors were punishing his client for going to trial.
“The fact that he was present and the head of the organization is really what the main focus is on,” Zweiback said of the indictment. “It’s clear that other people executed the plan.”
Anderson had previously sentenced Tanaka, the former undersheriff, to five years behind bars and seven other lower-ranking sheriff’s officials to terms ranging from a year and a half to more than three years for their roles in obstructing the federal investigation.
The indictment alleges that Baca, 74, conspired with Tanaka and others to keep federal investigators away from a jail inmate, Anthony Brown, who was providing information about deputies who were allegedly abusing inmates.
After sheriff’s officials caught Brown with a cellphone smuggled to him by the FBI and a jail deputy, Baca ordered his subordinates to keep Brown isolated and to interview him, according to the indictment.
By Aug. 26, 2011, prosecutors allege, Baca had approved overtime for deputies to guard Brown and prevent federal investigators from talking to him.
In a meeting and a subsequent letter, Baca told officials from the U.S. attorney’s office that he was displeased about the federal investigation, the indictment alleges. He asked them to withdraw the grand jury subpoenas they had served on the Sheriff’s Department, said that sheriff’s officials would investigate the FBI for violations of state law, and threatened to pull out of joint task forces.
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