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 Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca Found Guilty of Orchestrating Scheme to Obstruct Federal Investigation into Jails

 LOS ANGELES – Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was found guilty today of leading a conspiracy to obstruct justice by overseeing a scheme designed to impede a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jail facilities. Baca was also convicted of lying to federal investigators when he denied knowledge of key aspects of the obstruction plot.

After about two days of deliberations, a federal jury found that Baca authorized and condoned a scheme that now has resulted in the conviction of 10 former members of the Sheriff’s Department. During the trial, prosecutors described Baca as being the top figure in the conspiracy, which also involved his right-hand man and deputies who implemented orders from the Sheriff.

The jury convicted Baca on three felony counts: conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statement to federal investigators. As a result of today’s guilty verdicts, Baca, 74, faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

United States District Judge Percy Anderson, who has presided over several trials involving members of the conspiracy, is expected to schedule a sentencing hearing during a status conference on Monday.

The obstruction plot began in August 2011 after LASD officials discovered a cell phone in an inmate’s cell at the Men’s Central Jail, linked the phone to the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and learned 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 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.

As part of the obstruction scheme, Baca ordered a criminal investigation of the FBI agents conducting an undercover investigation, and he directed that the informant be concealed from federal investigators. Members of the conspiracy then 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.

While Baca put his right-hand man, then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, in charge of the scheme, Baca participated in dozens of meetings and phone calls with members of the conspiracy and admitted directing his deputies to approach the FBI agent. Baca participated in the scheme after being warned by a top deputy that the actions would amount to obstruction of justice.

“The former sheriff has now been held accountable for overseeing a widespread scheme to obstruct justice by issuing orders designed to protect a corrupt culture,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “As the Sheriff for Los Angeles County, Mr. Baca had a duty to uphold the law, a duty he utterly failed when he played an active role in undermining a federal investigation into illegal conduct at the jails. Today’s verdict shows that no one is above the law.”

“By obstructing the rule of law, Mr. Baca failed both the dedicated men and women of the largest sheriff’s department in the country, as well as the community he swore to serve,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “As this dark chapter for the LASD nears to a close and the department embarks upon reform under new leadership, we owe a debt of gratitude to the agents and prosecutors who worked on this case over several years and, at times, under very difficult circumstances. Their unfailing commitment to this case and to rooting out corrupt officials can only restore faith in law enforcement going forward.”

The case against Baca is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is one in a series of cases resulting from the investigation into county jail facilities in downtown Los Angeles that has resulted in 21 convictions.

As a result of today’s verdicts, Baca becomes the tenth member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to be convicted in the obstruction scheme, including former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

Eleven other former deputies have been convicted of federal charges, mostly related to unprovoked beatings of inmates and subsequent cover-ups.

The investigation of this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brandon Fox, Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section; Assistant United States Attorney Lizabeth A. Rhodes, Chief of the General Crimes Section; and Assistant United States Attorney Eddie A. Jauregui of the Major Frauds Section.


Los Angeles, March 15, 2017 – ALADS President Ron Hernandez issued the following statement regarding the conviction of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on three federal charges for orchestrating a scheme to thwart an FBI investigation into inmate mistreatment in the jails he ran and of lying to the FBI.
Ron Hernandez
ALADS President
After hearing nine days of testimony, the jury clearly understood that the department suffered a failure in leadership under the Baca/Tanaka regime. As we have said over and over again, today’s hardworking deputies should not be judged (or pre-judged) based on the past actions of others just as our current sheriff and executive staff would not want to have those evaluating their actions automatically assume they are continuing the misdeeds of Baca and Tanaka. However, we are still apprehensive that some people in the leadership of the department today were also in leadership under Baca/Tanaka and should have been minding the store.
ALADS continues to be concerned about the deputy sheriffs who became mired in the Baca/Tanaka scandal. We were disappointed by the sentences that were handed down to deputies in the past year for crimes relating to the scandal. While we will not suggest the number of years Mr. Baca should serve, justice requires that those who directed criminal conduct should not be the least punished. As we understand it, the disgraced sheriff faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Our focus will now turn to working with the department in support of hiring the best candidates possible to be deputy sheriffs and district attorney investigators. History has taught us that hiring standards for law enforcement should not be relaxed. The opportunity for employment in a rewarding profession where you serve and protect others, with competitive pay and benefits, promotional opportunities and a secure retirement after a career of service, is the true path to attracting a diverse group of qualified candidates for the police force.
The verdict today is a sign that jurors will hold senior management accountable for the actions, decisions, and policies implemented by others. It is more important than ever that the sheriff be involved and aware of what administrators are doing in his name.
Finally, it is important to remind the people we serve that rank-and-file deputies are determined by their daily actions on the job, to show the public that the crimes committed by former department executives reflect only upon those executives and their leadership failures. We are not going to let the sins of former managers define our deputies, as that would not be an accurate representation of the honesty, hard work and integrity ALADS members and their co-workers exemplify every day.
  • sweepsailor says:

    Many of us have known for YEARS that Baca and his minions have been corrupt to the core! But we never had the money nor the inclination to take on the arrogantly rich and powerful in LA city and county government. This come -uppin has been LONG OVERDUE! I hope Baca rots in jail, it is now payback time for law abiding citizens!!