Lee Baca

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca outside court in Los Angeles after pleading guilty Wednesday to lying to federal investigators. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Joel Rubin and Cindy Chang
February 12, 2016

The sheriff’s lie came 25 minutes into the interview.

It was an April afternoon in 2013, and a federal prosecutor was bearing down on Lee Baca, trying to find out how much he knew about his underlings’ attempts to obstruct FBI agents investigating corruption and brutality by deputies inside his Los Angeles County jails.

Had he known in advance, the prosecutor asked, that two of his deputies were going to confront the lead FBI agent at her home?

“I wasn’t aware of any of the … particulars,” Baca said.

In fact, he knew all about it.

It was the first of three lies prosecutors say Baca told federal authorities during the four-hour interview at his lawyer’s downtown office.

According to a recording of the confidential interview obtained by The Times, Baca portrayed himself as a hands-off manager who knew nothing about any attempts within his department to thwart the federal investigation. He instead cast blame on a long list of targets: immature deputies; sheriff’s managers who had wide latitude to supervise employees; even federal authorities themselves, for failing to alert Baca to their secret civil rights investigation.

The one person Baca didn’t blame was himself.

That changed this week when Baca, as part of a deal he struck with prosecutors, admitted in court that he had lied about the encounter with the FBI agent. Federal prosecutors allege that the visit to the FBI agent’s home — along with a threat to arrest her — was an attempt to intimidate her and obstruct the federal investigation into the jails.

In testimony and interviews with federal authorities, some of Baca’s subordinates contradicted what he told prosecutors. Baca, they said, instructed deputies to go to the agent’s home and interview her.

“Just don’t put handcuffs on her,” Baca said, according to an FBI summary of an interview with a former sheriff’s captain.

Baca’s guilty plea Wednesday to making a false statement marked a stunning reversal for the longtime law enforcement leader who had previously insisted he played no role in the jail scandal. In his plea agreement, the 73-year-old retired sheriff did not contest the other false statements prosecutors accused him of making in the interview.

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