On Wednesday, jurors convicted fallen Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca of obstructing a federal investigation into abuses in county jails and lying to cover it up.
According to prosecutors, Baca became furious after learning about the FBIs covert scheme to investigate allegations of inmate and visitor abuse. Jurors convicted Baca of three felonies: obstruction of justice, conspiracy and making false statements to federal investigators.
A national law enforcement figure, Baca led the sheriff’s department for 15 years until the scandal broke in 2014.
A mistrial was declared late last year when the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquitting Baca. At that time, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office opted to retry the case.
Ten people in all have been convicted or pleaded guilty to various charges, including obstruction of a federal investigation, civil rights violations for beating inmates and visitors in the jails, and intimating an FBI official.
Offenders ranged from Baca’s undersheriff Paul Tanaka—now serving 5 years in prison—to lower-level deputies. Baca maintained that he knew nothing about the conspiracy and pinned it on Tanaka.
Prosecutors say Baca saw the FBI probe as an incursion into his territory. This is when he hatched a scheme to keep the feds from contacting potential witnesses. When Baca learned inmate and informant Anthony Brown had a phone smuggled into the jail, Brown’s name was erased from the computer systems and he was relocated multiple times to various facilities to keep the FBI from finding him.
Although Baca had no direct dealing in the obstruction and cover up, Tanaka and deputies involved testified their boss gave them orders and was aware of what was going on. Email and phone records confirm a link between them and Baca.
Prosecutors tried to strike a deal with Baca last year that called for him to plead guilty to a single count of making false statements to federal investigators and spend no more than six months in prison.
But U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said that deal was too lenient and indicated he would give Baca a harsher sentence. That’s when Baca decided to withdraw his plea and go to trial.
Now 74, and showing early signs of Alzheimers Disease, Baca is facing time in federal prison.