Disgraced Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Ordered To Report To Prison

Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca leaves federal court in Los Angeles in 2017. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been ordered to report to prison to begin serving his three-year sentence for obstruction of justice, conspiracy and lying.

A federal judge issued the order Wednesday for Baca to surrender to the United States Bureau of Prisons, and it became public Thursday. The move came after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Baca's case earlier this week.

The former sheriff was sentenced back in 2017, but appealed his case. He led the L.A. Sheriff's Department for 15 years before resigning in 2014.

Baca was convicted in part for directing deputies in 2011 to hide an inmate informant from FBI agents who were investigating the abuse of inmates in the county jails.

Baca, who has Alzheimer's disease, must report to prison by Feb. 5.

THE BACK STORY

The former sheriff had agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in 2016 in which he would admit to lying to federal investigators in exchange for a maximum of six-months of incarceration, but U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson refused to go along with the deal, which he said trivialized Baca's actions.

The failed agreement came after nine other sheriff's officials had been convicted in connection with the scandal.

In Dec. 2016, a different jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of Baca's acquittal. Federal prosecutors decided to pursue another trial, hoping a second shot would bring a conviction.

During the second trial, Baca's former Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo testified he warned the sheriff not to mess with the FBI's investigation.

"I thought it was getting a little bit outrageous, quite frankly," Rhambo said. "I couldn't physically grab him by his jacket" to shake sense into him, he told the jury.

Baca's defense attorneys argued subordinates kept the sheriff out of the loop and that any action he took was intended to safeguard his jails from a shoddy FBI probe.

They were not allowed to bring up a defense they had sought: that Baca was suffering from early Alzheimers and that rather than lying to investigators, he simply didn't remember.

A CORRUPTION SCANDAL

The charges against Baca stemmed from a corruption scandal that emerged as the FBI was quietly investigating deputy brutality against inmates at Men's Central Jail.

Deputies in the jail discovered the federal investigation in the summer of 2011 when they found an inmate's cellphone and learned he was working as an FBI informant.

Department employees then hid the informant from federal investigators and failed to deliver him to a grand jury investigating claims of brutality. Two sheriff's sergeants later approached an FBI agent at her house and threatened to arrest her.

That led to a slew of federal indictments. Among those convicted was Baca's former number two, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

WHAT DID BACA KNOW?

The central questions throughout Baca's trials were how much he knew of plans to keep the informant from the FBI and threaten the FBI agent, whether those acts impeded the grand jury investigation and whether Baca intended them as such.

Prosecutors called several of Baca's former employees, including those who had already been implicated in the scheme.

"We were following the directions of the sheriff," former Sheriff's Capt. Tom Carey said during sworn testimony. "He was the engine of the train ... it's like he cut us loose."

In retrospect, Carey told the jury "our moves, our tactics" were "obstruction."

Baca's attorney, Nathan Hochman, had argued at trial that the informant's cellphone had raised safety issues in the jail to which Baca "had to act immediately." Hochman said Baca's goal was to "get to the bottom of the investigation" and keep the inmate safe from possible retaliation from others for being a "snitch".

Prosecutors said Baca's investigation into the cellphone was a "sham" used to cloak the conspirators' goal of obstruction.

When the FBI's investigation turned to Baca himself, federal prosecutor Elizabeth Rhodes said the former sheriff lied during a 2013 interview with federal investigators.

Baca told them he had "no clue this was a civil rights investigation".

Prosecutors said Baca knowingly made false statements "to divert the government's attention."

Hochman argued that Baca was 71 years old at the time, and asked jurors how they would do if asked to review a conversation from a week ago, a month ago or a year ago.

Previous reporting by Frank Stoltze and Annie Gilbertson contributed to this story.

READ THE SURRENDER ORDER

UPDATES:

2:251 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background information about Baca's case.

This article was originally published at 2:30 p.m..