By Claire Bernish
Los Angeles, CA — Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca shocked everyone Wednesday when he pled guilty to lying to federal investigators — reversing years of insistence he had been unaware of the corruption and civil rights abuses which were once rampant throughout the county jail system he headed for 15 years.
In return for an agreement with prosecutors that they would not seek a prison sentence longer than six months, Baca admitted he had willfully made a number of false statements during the corruption probe and agreed not to contest a number of other allegations against him.
“Today’s charge and plea agreements demonstrate that illegal behavior within the Sheriff’s Department went to the very top of the organization,” said U.S. Attorney for California’s Central District, Eileen M. Decker, reported KTLA. “More importantly, this case illustrates that leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture will be held accountable.”
Filed in a federal court Wednesday morning, Baca admitted in his plea arrangement that he was aware his subordinates planned to approach the FBI agent in charge of the corruption probe in her home and he would not contest he directed deputies to “do everything but put handcuffs on” her, according to the L.A. Times. Additionally, Baca lied about his role in hiding an FBI informant inside the jail system — a plot given to his second-in-command, Paul Tanaka — so investigators could not contact him.
Brown had been transferred to a separate jail facility under a fake name during the probe — which Baca had falsely claimed was a move to protect the inmate from deputies.
Tanaka will stand trial in March on charges of obstructing the same federal investigation, though he has pled not guilty. Attorneys for Tanaka plan to call Baca as a witness, and said the former Sheriff’s guilty plea has not changed those plans.
Baca’s guilty plea stems from false statements given to agents in the 2013 investigation of abuse and corruption at the L.A. County Men’s Central Tower and Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
“During this interview, Sheriff Baca lied,” Decker stated. “He lied when he stated that he did not know that members of the Sheriff’s Department had approached an FBI agent outside her home, and he lied when he stated he was unaware of efforts within the Sheriff’s Department to keep the FBI informant away from the FBI.”
Identified by the L.A. Times as Anthony Brown, the informant had received a cell phone smuggled into the jail by a sheriff’s deputy who had been bribed, for the purposes of documenting beatings of inmates and other abuses by deputies, which would then be sent to the FBI.
“This inmate and cooperator was essentially made to disappear within the jail system when deputies learned he was cooperating with the FBI,” said Decker.
So far, the sweeping corruption investigation has led to the conviction of more than a dozen employees of the Sheriff’s Department.
While the depth of the corruption and civil rights abuses are shocking, Baca’s guilty plea evidences at least a modicum of possible justice. As the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, who agree Baca deserves to be punished, said of Wednesday’s developments:
“The plea agreement sends a strong message that no one is above the law. There must be zero tolerance for this type of failed leadership. This by no means undermines the dedication and hard work of the more than 9,000 deputy sheriffs who put their lives on the line protecting L.A. County residents.”
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