Former Los Angeles sheriff gets three years in obstruction scheme

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FILE PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca walks out of federal court after a hearing with his lawyer David Hochman in Los Angeles

(Reuters) – Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday after his conviction in March on federal charges stemming from a scheme to derail an FBI investigation into corruption at his department.

Baca, 74, who retired in 2014 when the investigation was already under way, was the 10th member of the Sheriff’s Department convicted in the scheme aimed at preventing the Federal Bureau of Investigation from discovering wrongdoing by his staff.

A federal jury convicted him on March 15 of one count each of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and lying to federal agents.

“Rather than fulfill his sworn duty to uphold the law and protect the public, Lee Baca made a decision to protect what he viewed as his empire, and then he took actions in an effort to simply protect himself,” said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown, whose office prosecuted the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, who imposed the sentence, ordered Baca to report to prison by July 25 and to pay a $7,500 fine.

After his trial, Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, had said that he expected to prevail on appeal and that key evidence had been kept from the jury.

Baca initially pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal investigators in February 2016, but withdrew the plea six months later after Anderson ruled that a six-month prison term prosecutors recommended was too lenient. His first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked in December, before his conviction at his second trial in March.

The case stems from a wide-ranging federal probe of inmate abuse and other wrongdoing by sheriff’s deputies, including cover-up attempts, at two downtown Los Angeles jails.

Baca’s attorney’s maintained he was unaware of efforts inside his department to impede the investigation, and sought to blame his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.

Baca’s lawyers also said he is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. They were blocked by the judge from raising that issue as a defense.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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