Responsible for leading a conspiracy against an FBI investigation into prisoner abuse committed by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies, former Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted Wednesday for obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and making false statements to federal investigators. Although Baca attempted to blame his undersheriff for these crimes, his former subordinates testified that Baca had full knowledge of the conspiracy.
In 2011, an FBI informant named Anthony Brown bribed a deputy to smuggle a cellphone into Men’s Central Jail in Downtown Los Angeles. While using the phone to record evidence of prisoner abuse committed by deputies at the jail, Brown was later caught with the piece of contraband and eventually admitted he had been working as a confidential informant for the FBI.
Instead of allowing the FBI to conduct their work, Baca and his deputies engaged in a conspiracy to hinder and impede the federal investigation. After abruptly terminating an interview between Brown and his FBI handlers, Baca’s subordinates repeatedly altered Brown’s name in the computer while secretly transferring him to a series of undisclosed locations without the FBI’s knowledge.
As Baca’s deputies falsely convinced Brown that the FBI had abandoned him, several members of the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau confronted FBI Agent Leah Marx at her house on September 26, 2011. Recorded on surveillance video, Sgt. Scott Craig lied to Marx by telling her that she was a named suspect in a felony complaint and threatened to obtain a warrant for her arrest.
On April 12, 2013, FBI agents and federal prosecutors interviewed Baca regarding his role and knowledge of the misconduct taking place within his department. Instead of answering honestly, Baca lied at least three times to the federal agents.
In his first false statement, Baca told investigators that he was unaware his deputies had hidden Brown from the FBI. When asked if he knew that Lt. Gregory Thompson had abruptly terminated the interview between Brown and FBI agents on August 23, 2011, Baca falsely claimed to have no knowledge of the incident. Baca also lied when he told investigators that he was unaware his deputies had threatened FBI Agent Marx at her home.
During Baca’s second trial, former Capt. William “Tom” Carey testified that Baca attended a meeting on September 25, 2011, planning the harassment of Agent Marx at her residence on the following day. Carey testified, “He didn’t tell us not to do it. His advice to us was just not to put handcuffs on her.”
Former Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo also testified against Baca during the former sheriff’s retrial. According to his testimony, Rhambo told jurors that he had warned Baca against obstructing a federal investigation into his deputies.
Attempting to shift blame from the former sheriff to his undersheriff, Baca’s attorney falsely blamed Paul Tanaka for conducting a rogue operation against the FBI without Baca’s knowledge. Convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice last year, Tanaka was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
Although jurors in Baca’s first trial could not agree on a verdict, the jury in his second trial decided to convict him Wednesday of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators. Baca never testified on his own behalf.
While planning to appeal, Baca faces up to 20 years in federal prison.