LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11 / CNS) - Marking a major advancement in the corruption probe of the sheriff's department over its management of the jail system, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is expected to plead guilty today to a federal charge of lying to investigators.
From Phil Shuman:
This was a major day in the recent history of Los Angeles. Sheriff Lee Baca, who ran the Sheriff's department for some 16 years, and always maintained he was above reproach and honest, is looking at at least 6 months in federal prison.
A shocking end to a career of public service but in the end he admitted lying to the FBI about his knowledge of jail house abuse. He was in charge, he covered it up, he lied about it, and now he's paying the price. "No one is above the law'' said US Attorney Eileen Decker as she announced the plea deal in the downtown Federal Building.
She was joined by the local FBI types who said ''one difference between our country and others (when it comes to public corruption) is the way we investigate it. That would be forever and thoroughly. The Sheriff's department probe alone was some 6 years.
17 members of the Department have gone to prison or been convicted, and former # 2 Paul Tanaka is awaiting trial. Baca , now 73, has always had an odd sort of affect in person, but today I'd say he literally looked stunned as he appeared in court a couple of hours after the Feds news conference, , and he said nothing beyond ''no comment'' as I tried to talk to him leaving the courthouse. His attorney said ''he made a mistake and he's going to be held accountable.'' Sounds about right.
Baca's attorney, Michael Zweibeck, told the Los Angeles Times the former sheriff will plead guilty to a single count of making a false statement, and the plea deal calls for him to spend no more than six months in prison.
There was no immediate comment from federal authorities, but U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and FBI Assistant Director in Charge David Bowdich are expected to hold a midday news conference to discuss the case.
Zweibeck told The Times that under the plea deal, prosecutors will not pursue any additional charges against Baca. The deal must be approved by a federal judge.
Baca is the latest -- and highest-ranking -- department official to be enveloped in the corruption scandal stemming from violence in the jail system. Baca, 73, retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.
News media outlets reported that Baca allegedly lied to investigators when he said he was unaware that sheriff's deputies were going to the home of an FBI agent in 2011 to confront her over her involvement in the corruption probe of the department.
A federal judge Wednesday was expected to approve an agreement ending the case against sheriff's Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez. They were convicted of falsifying records documenting the 2009 beating of a handcuffed inmate, but they were acquitted of a federal civil rights charge and jurors deadlocked on a charge of excessive force. Prosecutors had planned to re-try them, but under the agreement, the excessive force charge will be dismissed, and the deputies will receive prison terms of between 21 and 27 months.
Aguiar and Ramirez were the latest of 21 current and former sheriff's officials to be tried by federal authorities in connection with the FBI's multi-year investigation into brutality and other misconduct in the Los Angeles
County Sheriff's Department.
The corruption probe previously went only as high as Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff, who faces trial in March on conspiracy charges for allegedly managing a secret plan in 2011 to "hide'' an inmate-turned-informant
from FBI handlers during the jails probe.
That inmate, Anthony Brown, was hidden from FBI handlers during a time when federal officials were conducting a probe of alleged deputy violence against prisoners. Brown was booked and re-booked under a series of false names, and was eventually told he had been abandoned by the FBI.
Eight former sheriff's department officials -- including a captain, two lieutenants and two sergeants -- were convicted for their roles in the cover-up.
All claimed they had been following orders from superiors in assisting a legitimate investigation into how and why a cell phone had been smuggled into the Men's Central Jail.
Tanaka and retired captain Tom Carey, who headed an internal investigations unit, were charged in May with the alleged attempt to derail the federal jails probe.
Carey pleaded guilty last year to a charge of lying on the witness stand during the 2014 trial of former Deputy James Sexton, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for trying to obstruct the jails investigation.
Tanaka's attorneys, Jerome Haig and H. Dean Steward, issued a statement saying Baca's plea deal makes the case "all the more interesting,'' but they are still prepared to call Baca as a witness during Tanaka's trial.
"We had planned to call Sheriff Baca as a witness and that continues to be our plan,'' according to the attorneys. "His guilty plea changes nothing for our defense. Paul Tanaka has pled not guilty firmly, and we look forward to
our day in court.''
In response to the federal probe, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, a panel which examined alleged brutality by deputies in the jail. The commission's scathing report recommended more than 60 reforms. All of them have been enacted, including the creation of the Office of Inspector General.
The county has also agreed to create a Civilian Oversight Commission that will oversee the department. The Board of Supervisors last month approved a process for selecting members of the panel.