Former Los Angeles Sheriff Found Guilty of Obstructing Federal Investigation

Lee Baca, the former Los Angeles County sheriff, with his lawyer in January. Credit Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

LOS ANGELES — Lee Baca, the former Los Angeles County sheriff, was found guilty on Wednesday of obstructing a federal investigation of corruption and abuses in county jails, as well as covering up his attempt to block investigators.

The verdict brings an end to a corruption scandal that has dogged the largest sheriff’s department in the country and reached the highest levels of the department. Ten other officers, ranging from rank-and-file deputies to Mr. Baca’s second in command, have been convicted or pleaded guilty to interfering in the federal investigation into the jail system. More deputies have been found guilty of routinely sexually humiliating inmates and severely beating them at the jails, according to the Justice Department.

Mr. Baca, who is now 74 and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, could face up to 20 years in federal prison. It is a remarkable fall for a man who was viewed nationally as progressive on criminal justice issues and praised for his outreach to ethnic communities.

The verdict, which the jury reached after less than two days of deliberations, came in the second trial against Mr. Baca, who resigned in 2014 amid the investigation into the corruption charges. Last December, another jury deadlocked, with 11 of the jurors wanting to grant an acquittal and just one finding him guilty.

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Federal prosecutors argued that Mr. Baca directed a conspiracy in 2011 to stop the F.B.I. from investigating allegations of abuse and corruption in the county’s jails, including trying to keep federal agents away from an inmate who was working for them as an informant, intimidating the agent leading the investigation and manipulating potential witnesses.

Mr. Baca’s top deputy, Paul Tanaka, was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy last year and sentenced to five years in prison. Federal District Judge Percy Anderson, the same judge who oversaw Mr. Tanaka’s trial, will hand down Mr. Baca’s sentence. Federal prosecutors tried to avoid a trial late last year by reaching a plea deal with Mr. Baca, which would have put him in prison for no longer than six months. But Judge Anderson ruled that the sentence was too lenient.

Deputies initially discovered the federal civil rights investigation in the summer of 2011, when they found that F.B.I. agents had bribed a deputy to get a cellphone to the inmate working as an informant in their investigation of widespread corruption and routine beatings at the jail. The department later moved the inmate around to several other jails, using a pseudonym so that he could not be found and stopping him from speaking to a grand jury, witnesses in the trial said.

Two sheriff sergeants later approached an F.B.I. agent at her home and threatened to arrest her, a plan that prosecutors said Mr. Baca had approved. Other employees of the sheriff’s department tried to dissuade the inmate and other deputies from cooperating with the investigation.

Prosecutors also said Mr. Baca had lied during a 2013 interview with investigators, telling them he had not known that a civil rights investigation was underway when he interfered.

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