Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who was found guilty of spearheading schemes to obstruct a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jail facilities last week, received a sentence Monday of 36 months in federal prison.
A federal jury convicted the 74-year-old Baca on three felony counts: conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statement to federal investigators. He was sentenced Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, who ordered he begin his sentence July 25 and pay a fine of $7,500.
“Rather than fulfill his sworn duty to uphold the law and protect the public, Lee Baca made a decision to protect what he viewed as his empire, and then he took actions in an effort to simply protect himself,” said Acting United States United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “He wore the badge, but ultimately, he failed the department and the public’s trust. Today’s sentence demonstrates that no one is above the law – not even the leader of the largest municipal police agency in the nation.”
According to the Justice Department, the obstruction from Baca’s side began in August 2011 after Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) officials found a cell phone in an inmate’s cell, tied the phone to the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and discovered that the inmate was an FBI informant.
“The cell phone had been smuggled into the jail by a corrupt deputy who took bribes. The FBI had developed the informant as part of an investigation into the county jail system, which for years had been the subject of allegations of inmate abuse and subsequent cover-ups. The evidence presented at trial showed that the sheriff wanted to avoid federal scrutiny of his troubled jails,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
Baca ordered a criminal investigation of the FBI agents leading the investigation, and he ordered his subordinates to hide the informant from federal investigators.
After six weeks, members of the scheme “then took a series of steps that successfully hid the informant from federal authorities, engaged in witness tampering in an effort to prevent information from being shared with federal authorities, and threatened to arrest the lead FBI agent on the case. When Baca watched a recording of his deputies confronting the FBI agent, he reacted by stating ‘it was the best laugh he had in some time,’ prosecutors noted in their sentencing memorandum filed with the court,” the DOJ said.
The case resulted in 21 convictions and Baca is the 10th member of the LASD convicted in the obstruction scheme. Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was also found guilty by a federal jury, was slapped a five-year sentence in federal prison last year.