A federal jury today convicted former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on all three counts he faced in connection with thwarting an FBI investigation of civil rights violations in the jail system he led. The 74-year-old faces up to 20 years behind bars for the conviction on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal agents.
Last year Baca was offered a six-month sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. But U.S. District Court judge Percy Anderson rejected the lenient plea deal, and Baca fought the feds in trial.
A mistrial was declared in December after the U.S. Attorney's Office tried Baca on allegations of conspiracy and obstruction. Jurors voted 11-to-1 to acquit. Federal prosecutors this winter took another shot at the former lawman, throwing the book at him. He had resigned from his longtime elected post in 2014, under the cloud of the federal crackdown.
Prosecutors allege that while he was the top cop at America's largest sheriff's department, Baca tried to throw off FBI agents investigating civil rights violations — including deputies' beat-downs of inmates — at the massive jail system he controlled.
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They also say he lied when FBI agents asked about a Sept. 25, 2011, meeting in which sheriff's officials conspired to conceal evidence from the agency. The incident at the heart of the case happened earlier that year, when sheriff's officials discovered that feds had smuggled a phone to an inmate so he could snitch on jailers and their allegedly violent ways. "This led to a monthlong scheme to obstruct the investigation," according to a U.S. Attorney's statement.
Two sheriff's officials went to the home of an investigating agent and threatened to arrest her, prosecutors said. And when Baca confronted the former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Andre Birotte Jr., about the FBI investigation, he said, "I'm the goddamn sheriff. These are my goddamn jails,'' the prosecutor, now a federal judge, testified.
Feds already took down Baca's former No. 2, ex-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was sentenced to five years behind bars for his role in attempting to thwart the FBI. And at least 21 former sheriff's employees, including two ex-deputies who were convicted for beating an inmate after he allegedly expressed disrespect, have been convicted as part of the scandal.
Baca's sentencing will take place at a later date.