Ex-LA County Sheriff Lee Baca sentenced to three years in prison in jail corruption scandal – Los Angeles Times
Baca was ordered Friday to surrender to federal prison officials by July 25, although he is expected to ask to remain free on bail while he pursues an appeal. No decision has been made on where he will serve his sentence. His defense attorney requested that he be assigned to a camp in Taft, Calif., or barring that, a camp in Oregon.
In going after Baca, federal prosecutors meticulously worked their way up the departmentâs ranks, charging lower-level figures and members of Bacaâs command staff before bringing charges against the sheriff himself.
When Baca struck a deal with prosecutors last year, he agreed to spend six months in prison for lying about his role in a plot to obstruct an FBI probe into county jails.
In return, Baca would avoid facing more serious charges at a trial and the possibility of far more time behind bars.
But the deal fell apart and Baca went on to lose at the trial he never wanted.
Baca, 74, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, was sentenced at a morning hearing in the downtown courtroom where he was found guilty in March on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, as well as the lying charge he had been ready to admit to in the deal with prosecutors.
The decision came from U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, who threw out the earlier plea deal for being too lenient and has dealt unsparingly with Baca throughout his legal battle. In previous trials, Anderson handed down lengthy prison sentences for several Baca subordinates who were involved in the plan to thwart the FBI investigation. As part of his punishment, Baca also received one year of supervised release, to be served after he completes his prison term, and was fined $7,500.
“Mr. Baca’s fall from such heights is tragic for so many reasons,” Anderson said in rendering his decision, adding that Baca’s criminal conduct is âso at odds with the public image he carefully crafted.”
Under federal guidelines, a sentence of 41 to 51 months would be appropriate for Bacaâs crimes, according to court papers filed by the U.S. attorneyâs office. And under normal circumstances, the government would have urged Anderson to come down within that range, wrote Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox, who prosecuted Baca.
Baca âabused the great power the citizens of Los Angeles County had given himâ in helping to obstruct the FBI investigation into beatings and other corruption by sheriffâs deputies working in the jails, Fox wrote. And his lies to investigators about his part in the scheme were a âdeliberate attempt to deflect blame and place it entirely on the shoulders of others within his Department.â
Nonetheless, Bacaâs age, his diagnosis last year with Alzheimerâs and medical expertsâ expectation that Bacaâs mind will have deteriorated badly within a few years were valid mitigating factors in determining his punishment, Fox told the judge.
âThe interests of justice will not be served by defendant spending many years behind bars in a severely impaired state,â the prosecutor wrote. He recommended that Baca be sentenced to two years in prison.
After finding no common ground during two hard-fought trials â the first ended in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquitting Baca â Bacaâs attorney Nathan Hochman agreed with Fox that his clientâs illness should influence his sentence.
But Hochman urged Anderson to spare Baca any time in prison, saying he should instead be confined to his home for a period of time and ordered to perform community service.
âThis diagnosis is a sentence of its own. It is a sentence that will leave him a mere shell of his former self and one that will rob him of the memories of his life,â Hochman wrote in a court filing. Two Alzheimerâs experts who recently examined Baca concluded that his condition has progressed from the diseaseâs early stage to âmild dementia,â Hochman wrote.
In prison, Bacaâs poor health and his status as a high profile law enforcement figure would make him a target for abuse from other inmates, the defense attorney wrote. In addition, he said, Baca would probably not receive the medical care he requires while the rough conditions in a prison would exacerbate his disease.
In making his case for leniency to Anderson, Hochman also argued that the good work Baca did during a law enforcement career that spanned five decades should not be overshadowed by poor decisions he made over six weeks in 2011 as the obstruction unfolded. He included in the filing letters from a few hundred of Bacaâs supporters, including former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and several local religious leaders.
Although Baca has said he plans to appeal his conviction and his former second-in-command, ex-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, is appealing his own, the sentencing hearing nonetheless marks an endpoint in a six-year campaign by the FBI and U.S. attorneyâs office to expose a culture of corruption that led them to the highest ranks of the Sheriffâs Department.
In 2010, FBI agents opened an investigation into Menâs Central Jail, the main facility in the countyâs enormous detention system. For years, the Sheriffâs Department, which runs the jails, had been dogged by reports of a place run amok, in which deputies routinely beat inmates without provocation and covered up the abuse, often with the knowledge of supervisors. Other corruption, including deputies who took bribes to bring contraband in to inmates, was said to be rampant as well.
The investigation came to a sudden halt in August the following year when sheriffâs officials uncovered the secret probe after discovering agents had used a corrupt deputy to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate who was working as an informant.
News of the FBI investigation angered Baca and Tanaka, who viewed it as an unwarranted incursion into their territory by an outside agency.