Jury Now Deciding Whether Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca Ordered Coverup
The corruption trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca came to a close Monday as federal prosecutors told jurors that Baca "authorized and condoned" plan to obstruct an FBI investigation into abuse inside the jail system. Baca's attorneys, however, countered that Baca was unaware of such activities, and that former undersheriff Paul Tanaka was behind the operation."The mere fact that Sheriff Baca was sheriff... does not make him criminally responsible for what went on down below," said Nathan Hochmann, Baca's lead attorney, reports the L.A. Times.
During the trial, the prosecution called on former deputies who have already been convicted as part of the sweep by the FBI, some of whom are currently serving time in prison for their charges, and testified while wearing their prison jumpsuits. One of them, James Sexton, told the court that he was told orders related to the coverup were "coming all the way from the top."
In 2013, the FBI accused the Sheriff's Department of abuses within the jail system and also trying to cover it up when it was discovered that the feds were investigating. Feds say sheriff's officials were trying to hide the inmate Anthony Brown from investigators when they had discovered that he was in contact with the FBI.
Another unusual witness called to the stand in the trial was former a former L.A. Times reporter who reported that Baca admitted to sending deputies to the home of an FBI investigator. In a story from September 29, 2011 by Robert Faturechi, Baca denied the deputies were there to intimidate the agent.
Faturechi was reluctant to testify on the stand, but was subpoenaed by prosecutors. He and lawyers for the L.A. Times argued that he was protected by the First Amendment. The judge rejected his argument but agreed to limit the questions to only what he had reported—allowing Faturechi protect his sources.
"Subpoenaing journalists is a threat to media independence," Faturechi said in a statement. "Our attorneys fought back to ensure... I would reveal absolutely nothing about anonymous sources or confidential materials."
Baca did not take the stand during the trial. Back in July, the judge rejected a plea deal that the former sheriff made with prosecutors for a six-month sentence, saying it was too lenient. Just weeks earlier, the same judge had sentenced former-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka to five years for his role in the coverup.
Baca's attorney's had previously argued that their client serve the six-month sentence in probation, as doctors say he is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
The jury is now deliberating on two felony charges for obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He faces another trial for a third felony charge of lying to federal investigators. If convicted of all three charges, Baca faces up to 20 years in prison.