UPDATE at 12:38 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016: The current sheriff weighs in, at the bottom.
Former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca has agreed to plead guilty to a felony allegation of lying to the FBI during an investigation of corruption and civil rights violations inside his department, the U.S. Attorney's Office in L.A. announced today.
The plea is part of a deal under which the former lawman would face, at the discretion of a judge, a maximum of six months in federal prison, prosecutors said. The agreement would head off an indictment, they said.
Baca, 73, was expected to enter his plea in federal court at 2:30 p.m., they said.
Baca told investigators that he did not know his deputies would “approach” the lead FBI investigator in the Sheriff's Department case, feds said in a statement. But not only did he know, he told his people to “do everything but put handcuffs” on the agent, according to the statement.
The sheriff made the false statement during an April 12, 2013, interview with FBI agents and assistant United States Attorneys, prosecutors said.
The federal corruption investigation has targeted several other sheriff's officials, including former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who's scheduled to go on trial on March 22. Baca is slated to become the 18th conviction in the corruption and excessive force investigation, officials said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office explained what happened in its statement:
During the course of the investigation that was being conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a federal grand jury, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Men’s Central Jail accepted a bribe to smuggle a cellphone into the facility. The phone was delivered to an inmate who was working as an FBI informant. Jail officials later discovered the phone, linked it to the FBI and determined that the inmate was an informant. This led to a monthlong scheme to obstruct the investigation, which included members of the conspiracy concealing the informant from the FBI, the United States Marshals Service and the grand jury. Members of the conspiracy also engaged in witness tampering and harassing the FBI agent.
Baca “participated” in a meeting on Sept. 25, 2011, in which approaching the investigating agent was discussed, feds said. The next day two sheriff's sergeants threatened the agent with arrest, they said.
“One of the measures of an organizational culture is how it handles its allegations of misconduct,” said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. “Mr. Baca set the wrong command climate and allowed that culture to fester, instead of fostering an environment of accountability. In short, he did not lead when he had the opportunity to do so.”
On Jan. 7, 2014, Baca resigned.
UPDATE at 12:38 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016: Sheriff Jim McDonnell weighed in with this statement:
As I have stated previously when asked about the federal investigation and trial, I have faith in the justice system, and trust that it is assessing the facts of these past events in a fair-minded, accountable manner. I know that the milestones during this series of federal trials have been difficult for all of us at the Sheriff’s Department to learn about. But most important, I have learned through my personal experience with this proud organization that our deputies and professional staff remain focused and committed to moving forward by continuing to perform their essential public service in a professional and caring manner.
George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), had this to say:
The plea agreement sends a strong message that no one is above the law. There must be zero tolerance for this type of failed leadership. This by no means undermines the dedication and hard work of the more than 9,000 deputy sheriffs who put their lives on the line protecting L.A. County residents. With this admission of guilt, the environment that created this type of corruption is out of the department and we begin a new day of restoring confidence and trust.
UPDATE at 1:33 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016: Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said this today:
Los Angeles County’s jails have been plagued by unlawful violence for decades. Much of the blame for that violence must be shouldered by former Sheriff Lee Baca, who failed to confront this abuse and the horrific conditions inside the jail despite repeated calls for reform by the ACLU SoCal. Today Baca pleaded guilty to making false statements. We are heartened to see that those charged with enforcing the law are also expected to obey it, including the former sheriff and his deputies.