Prosecutors Seek Two-Year Prison Term for Baca

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison term for ex-Sheriff Lee Baca for conspiring to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption within Los Angeles County jails, but the defense is asking for a sentence of home detention, court papers obtained Tuesday show.

Baca, 74, was convicted March 15 of obstruction of justice and two other federal charges for his role in the scheme to thwart the FBI probe into inmate mistreatment in the jails he ran and of lying to the bureau.

After about two days of deliberations, a criminal jury in downtown Los Angeles – the second to hear the case – found that Baca authorized and condoned a multi-part scheme that now has resulted in the conviction of 10 former members of the Sheriff’s Department.

During his two trials, prosecutors described Baca as being the top figure in the conspiracy, which also involved his right-hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.

In helping derail the federal probe, Baca “abused the great power the citizens of Los Angeles County had given him,” while false statements made during a sworn interview with investigators was a “deliberate attempt to deflect blame and place it entirely on the shoulders of others within his department,” the prosecution wrote in pre-sentencing documents.

Normally, the government would recommend a prison sentence of three to four years for the convictions. But due to Baca’s age and cognitive condition, “the interests of justice will not be served by defendant spending many years behind bars in a severely impaired state,” the document states.

In its papers, the defense cited Baca’s decades of public service, diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease and “peripheral” role in the conspiracy to support a probationary term in home detention with community service.

Attorney Nathan Hochman asked the judge to consider “an individual with one of this country’s most exceptional public service careers spanning over almost 50 years, an individual who suffers from the incurable and rapidly progressing and debilitating mental health disease of Alzheimer’s, and an individual for whom prison will not allow him to obtain medical care in the most effective manner and will subject him to especially harsh treatment due to his medical condition as well to his age and former position as LASD Sheriff.”

Baca – who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years – faces up to 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced May 12 by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson.

The retired lawman was first tried in December on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderso combined all three counts in the retrial. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.

While physically fit and able to function in his daily life, prosecutors wrote, Baca now faces “an uncertain prognosis for how quickly his mild cognitive impairment will advance.”

In his argument for a non-custodial sentence, Hochman wrote that Baca’s condition would be best treated outside of prison.

Baca became sheriff in December 1998 and won re-election on several occasions. He was poised to run again in 2014, but federal indictments unsealed in December 2013, related to excessive force in the jails and obstruction of that investigation, led Baca to retire the following month.

 

Lee Baca Withdraws Guilty Plea, Heads to Trial

August 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca withdrew his guilty plea to a federal corruption charge Monday and will go to trial, with a court date tentatively set for September.

After a morning of delays and last-minute negotiations, Baca told U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson he wished to withdraw from an agreement in which the retired lawman had pleaded guilty to a false statements charge, which ordinarily carries a possible five-year prison sentence.

The plea deal called for Baca to serve no more than six months behind bars.

With the ex-sheriff backing out of the deal, prosecutors said they would file an updated indictment against Baca and call him back into court for arraignment. Anderson set pretrial hearings on Sept. 6 and 12, and a Sept. 20 trial date, but that is expected to be postponed.

“For the peace of my family, to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial and to minimize the court drama associated with this case, several months ago I entered a guilty plea to one charge filed against me – be very clear, one charge,” Baca said outside the courthouse Monday. “Today I’m withdrawing my guilty plea and will seek a trial.”

(LASD)

(LASD)

“Why? I made this decision due to untruthful comments about my actions made by the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that are contradicted by evidence in this case,” Baca said. “While my future and my ability to defend myself depends on my Alzheimer’s disease, I need to set the record straight about me and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on misleading aspects of the federal investigation while I’m capable of doing this.”

“I want to thank my friends and family for encouraging me to stand up for what is right. My spirits are high and my love for all people is God’s gift to me.”

Going into Monday’s hearing, Baca faced a choice of either withdrawing his guilty plea and proceeding to trial or being sentenced on the false statements charge.

Two weeks ago, Anderson rejected the plea deal that would have given Baca a maximum of six months in prison, saying the sentence was too lenient considering the retired lawman’s role in obstructing an FBI investigation into Los Angeles County jails. Anderson said the deal “would trivialize the seriousness of the offenses.”

Baca’s attorney, Michael Zweiback, told the judge that both sides had failed to find a resolution that would not involve withdrawing the plea.

Asked by Anderson if he wanted to take back his plea, Baca responded, “Yes, your honor.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the court that the government would file a new indictment “in the not too distant future.”

Zweiback said he expected that indictment to include a range of charges similar to those that were filed against former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Zweiback also indicated that his 74-year-old client faced a “significant illness issue” which could affect future proceedings. Baca has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’;s disease.

Anderson said at the July hearing that he would not accept a six-month prison sentence for a defendant who had played a key role in a wide-ranging obstruction attempt that did “substantial harm” to the community.

“It’s one thing to lie to an assistant U.S. attorney,” Anderson said.

“It’s another for the chief law enforcement officer of Los Angeles County to… cover up abuse in Men’s Central Jail.”

To impose the penalty “would not address the gross abuse of the public’s trust,” the judge said, adding that such a punishment “understates the seriousness of the offense.

Baca argued in court papers for a probationary sentence, claiming his medical condition and law enforcement career make him susceptible to abuse while in custody.

“He is suffering from Alzheimer’s, which has become advanced and it’s a very significant and concerning time for him about what he should do next,” Zweiback said Monday outside court.

Federal prosecutors countered that the county’s former top lawman deserves prison time for falsely telling investigators in 2013 that he was unaware that sheriff’s deputies were going to the home of an FBI agent to confront and threaten her over her involvement in the probe of corruption
within the department.

The same year Baca committed the offense, he was named Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriffs’ Association.

The rejected plea agreement — which one of Anderson’s colleagues on the federal bench recently called “troubling” – was widely seen as too lenient.

Hundreds of letters in support of probation for Baca were filed with the court.

Baca pleaded guilty Feb. 10 after denying for years that he had played any role in the wide-ranging scandal that stained the department and led to his retirement.

“I made a mistake and accept being held accountable,” Baca said in a written statement issued on the courthouse steps following his plea hearing.

In the now-rejected plea agreement, Baca agreed not to contest other allegations leveled by prosecutors, including that in 2011 he directed subordinates to approach the FBI agent, stating that they should “do everything but put handcuffs” on her.

Prosecutors also accused Baca of lying about his involvement in hiding a jail inmate from FBI investigators. Baca, they alleged, ordered the inmate to be isolated, putting his second-in-command, Tanaka, in charge of executing the plan.

In addition, Baca falsely claimed he was unaware that some of his subordinates had interrupted and ended an interview FBI agents were conducting with the inmate, who was working as a federal informant, prosecutors alleged in the court documents.

Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.

Prosecutors have said that Baca lied to investigators to either avoid “political fallout” or to avoid more severe criminal charges.

Tanaka’s 60-month prison sentence is the longest stretch of any defendant in the obstruction case. Seven former sheriff’s lieutenants, sergeants and deputies convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice received prison sentences ranging from 18 to 41 months. Their appeal was
recently heard by the circuit court in Pasadena.

Judge Rejects Plea for Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca

July 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A federal judge Monday rejected a proposed plea deal between former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and prosecutors that called for the retired lawman to serve anywhere from zero to six months in prison for lying to investigators.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said a six-month sentence would “trivialize” Baca’s role in setting in motion a wide-ranging conspiracy to obstruct justice in the jail system that did “substantial harm” to the community.

“It’s one thing to lie to an assistant U.S. attorney,” Anderson said at the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing. “It’s another for the chief law enforcement officer of Los Angeles County to…cover up abuse in Men’s Central Jail.”

To impose a sentence of six months “would not address the gross abuse of the public’s trust” and would be unreasonable and unfair, the judge said.

Such a penalty, Anderson said, “understates the seriousness of the offense” and “the harm he caused by participating in a broad scheme to obstruct justice.”

Given a choice to withdraw his guilty plea to making false statements to federal investigators, keep his plea and face a more severe punishment or postpone the decision to a later date, Baca chose to have the hearing resume on Aug. 1.

Baca, 74, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, argued in court papers for a probationary sentence, claiming his medical condition and law enforcement career make him susceptible to abuse while in custody.

Federal prosecutors countered that the county’s former top lawman deserves six months behind bars for lying to investigators in 2013 when he said he was unaware that sheriff’s deputies were going to the home of an FBI agent to confront and threaten her over her involvement in the probe of corruption within the department.

The same year Baca committed the offense, he was named Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriffs’ Association.

The rejected plea agreement – which one of Anderson’s colleagues on the federal bench recently called “troublesome” — was widely seen as too lenient in a case where the sheriff’s department’s former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, was sentenced to five years in prison.

Hundreds of letters in support of probation for Baca were filed with the court.

Baca pleaded guilty Feb. 10 after denying for years that he had played any role in the wide-ranging scandal that stained the department and led to his retirement.

“I made a mistake and accept being held accountable,” Baca said in a written statement issued on the courthouse steps following his plea hearing.

According to the plea agreement, Baca agreed not to contest other allegations leveled by prosecutors, including that in 2011 he directed subordinates to approach the FBI agent, stating that they should “do everything but put handcuffs’ on her.

Prosecutors also accused Baca of lying about his involvement in hiding a jail inmate from FBI investigators. Baca, they alleged, ordered the inmate to be isolated, putting Tanaka in charge of executing the plan.

In addition, Baca falsely claimed he was unaware that some of his subordinates had interrupted and ended an interview FBI agents were conducting with the inmate, who was working as a federal informant, prosecutors alleged in the court documents.

Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.

Prosecutors have said that Baca lied to investigators to either avoid “political fallout” or to avoid more severe criminal charges.

“Defendant’s lies showed that corruption went all the way to the top of the Sheriff’s Department,” prosecutors wrote in the document. “But his crime is not as serious as the crimes by the members of the Sheriff’s Department who were convicted of beating inmates and filing false reports in order to have people charged with offenses they did not commit.”

As for Baca’s claims that he could be in danger of abuse if sent to a federal facility, prosecutors wrote that the Bureau of Prisons houses many “well-known inmates” who are well protected. In any case, the ex-lawman would not be jailed with violent criminals, prosecutors said.

The BOP currently houses some 300 inmates with severe forms of cognitive impairment resulting from dementia or Alzheimer’s, and they are treated and kept safe, according to prosecutors.

At a May sentencing hearing in a related case before U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell — whose courtroom is opposite Anderson’s – the judge mentioned the Baca plea deal in the context of the tough sentence prosecutors were seeking for two deputies found guilty of a similar charge.

O’Connell described the agreement with Baca as “troubling.”

When questioned by O’Connell about the difference in sentencing recommendations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams said the cases were “apples and oranges,” and noted that Baca had turned himself in, admitted guilt and had not been accused of using excessive force himself.

“He accepted responsibility,” Williams said, adding that Baca’s agreement was “very favorable.”

Copyright © 2017 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·