Lee Baca pleads not guilty during arraignment

- Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded not guilty today to federal charges of conspiring to obstruct a federal probe into misconduct by deputies in the jails.

Appearing in court for his arraignment in downtown Los Angeles, the 74- year-old Baca told a judge he had "cloudiness" on the brain due to his Alzheimer's disease, but was mentally capable of entering his not-guilty plea.

A tentative trial date of Oct. 4 was set.

Baca is facing federal charges of conspiring to obstruct justice, obstructing justice and lying to the federal government stemming from his alleged response to a covert FBI investigation into corruption and brutality by
jail deputies.

The ex-sheriff previously backed out of a plea deal on the lying count, which had been reached with federal prosecutors earlier this year. That deal called for Baca to serve no more than six months in prison, but U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson rejected the agreement as too lenient, prompting Baca to withdraw his plea instead of being sentenced to as much as five years behind bars.

If convicted of all charges in the new indictment, Baca could face up to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

"The U.S. Attorney's Office has already admitted in court the weakness of its obstruction case against Lee Baca," defense attorney Michael Zweiback said earlier. "We look forward to this process and believe that Mr. Baca will
be vindicated after all of the evidence is finally presented."

Baca -- who ran the nation's largest sheriff's department for 16 years -- is accused of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to derail the FBI's probe of corruption and brutality within the walls of Men's Central Jail.

After jail guards discovered that an inmate, Anthony Brown, was an FBI informant, they booked him under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators. They also
went to the home of an FBI agent and threatened her with arrest.

Ten former sheriff's department officials -- including Baca's ex-top deputy, Paul Tanaka -- have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the obstruction case.
Tanaka, who claimed his former boss ordered the department's response to the federal jails probe, was sentenced by Anderson to five years in prison, but is free pending appeal.

Baca had initially pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to investigators about his knowledge of the plan to threaten the FBI agent. That false statements count is one of the three counts Baca is now facing.

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

A federal appellate panel recently upheld the convictions of seven former sheriff's department officials convicted in the conspiracy.

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