Former L.A. county sheriff indicted on new federal charges
By Dan Whitcomb LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who earlier this week withdrew his guilty plea to a charge of lying to federal investigators in a corruption probe, was indicted on Friday on three new criminal counts, prosecutors said.
Baca, who pulled out of a plea agreement with prosecutors after a judge ruled that the recommended six-month prison term was too lenient, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all three counts handed down in a U.S. District Court grand jury indictment. Those counts include conspiring to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and lying to the federal government. “These new charges represent punishment by this United States Attorney’s office for our client’s decision to seek a trial,” Baca’s attorney Michael Zweiback said in a statement. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers cited the 74-year-old former lawman’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in their reasoning for seeking a relatively light sentence under the original deal. “While my future and my ability to defend myself depend on my Alzheimer’s disease, I need to set the record straight about me and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on the misleading aspects of the federal investigation while I am capable of doing so,” Baca said on the courthouse steps after withdrawing his plea on Monday. In rejecting the plea agreement, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said it understated the seriousness of the offense. He set a new trial date for Sept. 20. Baca served as the top elected law enforcement official in Los Angeles for 15 years before retiring in January 2014 amid a federal investigation of inmate abuse and other wrongdoing, including cover-up attempts, at the nation’s largest county jail system. He pleaded guilty in February to a charge of making false statements to investigators when he asserted in 2013 that he had no prior knowledge of his deputies’ efforts to harass a FBI agent and thwart a criminal probe of his department. Specifically, Baca admitted he was aware that his deputies planned to intimidate the agent and directed them to “do everything but put handcuffs” on her, his plea agreement stated. Seventeen others from the sheriff’s department have been convicted of criminal charges for misconduct inside the jail system, which has an inmate population of about 18,000. Baca’s former second-in-command was sentenced to five years in prison in June after being found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by G Crosse, James Dalgleish and Diane Craft)