Former L.A. Sheriff Withdraws Guilty Plea

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After a judge rejected his plea agreement last month, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca withdrew his guilty plea on Monday, in which Baca agreed to serve six months in prison for one count of making false statements to federal investigators. Due to the fact that Baca is accused of obstructing an FBI investigation and lying at least three times to investigators, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson determined that Baca deserves more than just a six-month prison sentence.

In 2010, the FBI launched an investigation into numerous allegations of excessive force, misconduct, and sexual assault committed by deputies at the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) in Downtown Los Angeles. When Baca became aware of the FBI investigation into his jail, he allegedly ordered then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka to quash the federal investigation by transferring an FBI informant named Anthony Brown to a series of secret locations under false identities.

As Baca’s deputies illegally hid Brown and threatened an FBI agent at her home, Baca reportedly attended meetings where Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and Captain William “Tom” Carey ordered deputies to secretly transfer Brown under false aliases and engage in witness tampering.

During an interview with investigators on April 12, 2013, Baca falsely stated that he was unaware of the plan to harass the FBI agent at her home, when in fact, Baca had attended the meeting where his officials devised the illegal plot. Baca also lied when he told investigators that he was unaware of Lt. Gregory Thompson terminating an FBI interview with Brown. In his third false statement, Baca claimed he was not involved in the discussion to hide Brown from the FBI.

Charged with three counts of making false statements to federal authorities investigating abuse and corruption within the LASD, Baca accepted a plea deal in February that reduced the charges to one count of making a false statement in exchange for a six-month sentence in prison. Last month, Judge Anderson tossed out the plea agreement due to its lenient sentencing guidelines, saying the deal “would trivialize the seriousness of the offenses” and the need to deter others.

With Tanaka recently sentenced to five years in prison for obstructing the FBI investigation into corruption and prisoner abuse within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD), Anderson cannot rationalize giving Baca a lighter sentence than his Undersheriff. Although Baca had agreed to plea guilty to one count of making false statements, prosecutors can now charge him with the initial three counts along with any new evidence against the former sheriff.

As Baca is expected to go to trial, his attorney, Michael Zweiback, reminded the court on Monday that Baca has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although Zweiback claimed that Baca’s dementia had progressed, the former sheriff remained aware of the legal proceedings and was not declared mentally incompetent.

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