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Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca Sentenced To Three Years In Prison

Lee Baca holds a press conference in 2007. (Photo by Chad Buchanan/Getty Images)
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Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has been sentenced to three years in prison for obstructing a FBI investigation into alleged abuses in the jail system that he oversaw.

In March, a jury found Baca guilty of obstruction of justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to federal authorities. Among the claims was that the ex-sheriff had ordered deputies to visit one of the investigators at her home as an act of intimidation—he'd allegedly told them to do "everything but put handcuffs" on the agent, said the U.S. Department of Justice. There were also accusations that he'd orchestrated a scheme to hide inmate-turned-informant Anthony Brown, who was used to expose a deputy who was allegedly accepting bribes. It's reported that, when Brown's cover was blown, his name was changed in the Sheriff's Department's computer system, and that he was constantly moved to prevent further contact with the FBI.

As reported by the L.A. Times, court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office said that, under federal guidelines, a sentence of 41 to 51 months would be within range for the crimes that Baca was charged with. Federal prosecutors added, however, that Baca's age and Alzheimer's diagnosis (revealed in summer of 2016) were mitigating factors.

Baca's case was reviewed over the course of two trials. The first one ended with a deadlocked jury in December. In the retrial, prosecutors introduced recordings of Baca speaking with federal investigators, as well as new witnesses like former captain William “Tom” Carey, who testified that Baca was "absolutely" aware of the obstruction efforts. The jury deliberated for two days before handing a guilty verdict for Baca.

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Baca had initially plead guilty in early 2016 in a deal with federal prosecutors. The terms of the plea deal stated that he would not serve more than six months in jail—the deal fell apart when a federal judge argued that the sentence was too lenient. Baca then withdrew his guilty plea and decided to go to trial.

In court, Baca's lawyers argued that it was largely Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who'd orchestrated the obstruction (Tanaka's lawyers, in their defendant's own trial, said that Tanaka was being used as a scapegoat by Baca). The defense had also attempted to introduce an argument that Alzheimer's disease may have led the ex-sheriff to misstate information to investigators—essentially, the lawyers said that Baca was basically telling the truth, as he'd forgotten details from the past. A federal judge, however, refused to allow the testimony of a psychiatrist who would have argued in favor of this theory.

Nine other officers and officials, including Tanaka, have either been convicted or pleaded guilty for their involvement.

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