LOS ANGELES (FOX 11) - Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca withdrew his guilty plea Monday to a charge in a federal corruption case. He opted to go to trial instead, which is set for late September.
"If he’s not going to be in a situation where he has some understanding of what he’s walking into, he may feel he has no alternative but to fight for his life and go to trial," said Michael Zweiback, one of Baca’s attorneys.
Baca admitted to lying to federal agents in early 2013 and later made a plea deal, which was both rejected by Judge Percy Anderson and then withdrawn by Baca himself.
Under the terms of the plea deal, 74-year-old Baca would have received a sentence of no more than six months in federal prison.
Judge Anderson said that deal "would not address the gross abuse of the public’s trust."
Other sentences in the same case have ranged from one year up to five years, with Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff, receiving the most time.
Bobby Samini, a local trial lawyer, said all those previous defendants of the same case can come back and serve as witnesses.
"The message from the judge is ‘this is not enough, you can’t give the guy at the top of the food chain six months,’" he said.
According to Samini, Baca and his team revealed that the former sheriff had early onset Alzheimer’s disease about a month before the hearing.
"Is this going to affect the trial in the future? I don’t think so," he said. "Because the reports I’m reading is that this is really early onset, that he just started to consult a physician about it."
The judge’s rejection was unusual, as most plea deals are accepted by judges, Samini said.
"Baca served for a long time, I think he did a lot of good," he said. "But the fact of the matter is you can’t go intimidating FBI agents and then lying to the FBI and trying to cover this up. This was pretty serious stuff."
Samini said he’s heard that prosecutors will amend the charges and add new charges, which means Baca could face more than five years.
"I think what’s going to happen is he’s going to make a deal between now and September," he said. "I think it’s probably going to be a deal that lets the judge sentence him to up to five years, but the recommendation will be lower and I think that’s probably the smart play right now."
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