Culminating an ongoing investigation of corruption in the Sheriff’s Dept., retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca confessed to making false statements to federal prosecutors on Wednesday. Baca will plead guilty in a downtown courtroom.
In a filed document, prosecutors say Baca lied twice about his involvement in hiding an inmate from FBI agents who were investigating brutality and corruption by sheriff's deputies in the county jails.
The document also said Baca lied about being unaware that subordinates planned to approach an FBI special agent at her home.
Michael Zweibeck, Baca's attorney, said his client has agreed to plead guilty to a single count as part of a plea deal. The U.S. Attorney's office has agreed not pursue other charges against the former sheriff, and a federal judge must sign off on the deal, Zweibeck said.
Baca could spend up to six months in prison, or not do any time at all.
Baca retired in 2014 amid an FBI probe into misconduct and abuse by deputies in the county's jail system. He was involved in a cover up scheme called “Operation Pandora’s Box.” Rather than cooperate with FBI agents to identify sources of inmate abuse at L.A. County jails, he and sheriff’s officials tried to thwart the investigation and ignored repeated warnings of widespread misconduct.
At the apex of the investigation is FBI-enlisted Men's Central Jail inmate Anthony Brown or “Inmate AB.” When sheriff's officials learned about Brown in the summer of 2011, they moved him to a different jail with a fake name, preventing the FBI from talking to him. Baca has said Brown was moved, not to hide him from the FBI, but to protect him from deputies.
At least 13 deputies were assigned to watch Brown around the clock. And when the operation was over, the deputies received an internal email thanking them for helping "without asking too many questions and prying into the investigation at hand."
So far, more than a dozen former sheriff's officials have been convicted as a result of the wide-ranging investigation, which began more than five years ago. Baca is the latest — and highest-ranking — department official to be enveloped in the corruption scandal.
Last year, Baca's former top aide, Paul Tanaka, was indicted on charges of orchestrating an elaborate scheme to thwart the FBI, raising questions about whether Baca would be the next to face prosecution.
In response to the federal probe, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, a panel which examined alleged brutality by deputies in the jail. The commission’s scathing report recommended more than 60 reforms. All of them have been enacted, including the creation of the Office of Inspector General.
The county has also agreed to create a Civilian Oversight Commission that will oversee the department. The Board of Supervisors last month approved a process for selecting members of the panel.
Baca ran the department for more than 15 years.