A federal appeals panel upheld the conviction of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Monday for obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and making false statements to federal investigators. Although Baca has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the former sheriff faces three years in prison for orchestrating a cover-up of jail abuse by harassing and intimidating FBI investigators.
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.
In March 2017, Baca was convicted for obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and making false statements to federal investigators. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided Baca’s rights had not been violated during his trial. Although Baca’s attorneys argued that U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson tainted the jury’s decision by barring testimony about Baca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the appeals panel determined that the trial was fair and the conviction legally sound.
“Instead of cooperating with a federal investigation that ultimately was concerned about improving conditions in the county jails, Mr. Baca chose to obstruct and then lie to federal authorities,” U.S. Atty. Nick Hanna stated.
Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, said he plans to ask for another hearing in front of a larger panel of judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the request is denied or Baca loses again, his attorneys could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case.
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