Los Angeles County’s former sheriff Lee Baca will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison after a jury found him guilty of heading a conspiracy to mislead federal investigators.
The former sheriff oversaw a scheme to impede a federal investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption in county jails and lied to federal investigators saying he did not have knowledge of the plot.
Baca was convicted of three felony counts, which include conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making a false statement to federal investigators.
“The former sheriff has now been held accountable for overseeing a widespread scheme to obstruct justice by issuing orders designed to protect a corrupt culture,” Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown said in a statement. “As the Sheriff for Los Angeles County, Mr. Baca had a duty to uphold the law, a duty he utterly failed when he played an active role in undermining a federal investigation into illegal conduct at the jails. Today’s verdict shows that no one is above the law.”
The 74-year-old was found to have authorized the scheme, which led to the convictions of 10 former sheriff’s department members. Baca was described by prosecutors to be the head of the conspiracy, which also involved deputies and his right-hand, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
The plot dates back to August 2011 after Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department officials found a cell phone in a cell at the Men’s Central Jail that was linked to the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad, revealing an inmate to be an FBI informant. The FBI developed the informant as a part of an investigation about the abuse and cover-ups occurring in the county jail system.
Baca ordered a criminal investigation of the FBI agents conducting an undercover investigation and directed that the informant should be concealed from the investigators. Others involved in the conspiracy proceeded to hide the informant from federal authorities and tampered with the witness in order to prevent information from being shared with the authorities. Conspirators also threatened to arrest the lead FBI agent on the case.
Though Tanaka was put in charge of the scheme, Baca engaged in dozens of meetings and phone calls with conspirators and directed his deputies to approach the FBI agent. Baca was warned by a deputy that his actions would be an obstruction of justice and proceeded to participate in the conspiracy anyway.
Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said in a statement that Baca failed both those who work for the sheriff’s department and community members.
“As this dark chapter for the LASD nears to a close and the department embarks upon reform under new leadership, we owe a debt of gratitude to the agents and prosecutors who worked on this case over several years and, at times, under very difficult circumstances,” Fike said. “Their unfailing commitment to this case and to rooting out corrupt officials can only restore faith in law enforcement going forward.”
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