Former LA County sheriff sentenced to 3 years in prison

May 14, 2017

Lee Baca

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who was convicted of overseeing a scheme designed to obstruct a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jail facilities, was sentenced last week to 36 months in federal prison. Baca, 74, was also found guilty of lying to federal investigators.

United States District Judge Percy Anderson, who presided over a series of trials that led to the conviction of 10 former members of the sheriff’s department involved in the scheme to obstruct justice, said Baca “knew what he was doing was wrong, and he had no problem using his office to further his own agenda.”

Judge Anderson ordered Baca to begin serving his sentence by July 25. In addition to the prison term, the judge ordered Baca to pay a $7,500 fine.

“Blind obedience to a corrupt culture has serious consequences,” Judge Anderson said.

In March, a federal jury convicted Baca on three felony counts: conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statement to federal investigators. The evidence presented at trial showed that Baca was the top figure in the conspiracy, which also involved his right-hand man and deputies who implemented orders from the sheriff.

“As Sheriff, Mr. Baca should have held himself accountable. He should have corrected the actions of others, rather than shift blame and obstruct a federal investigation,” said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles field office. “I’m proud of the team of agents and prosecutors who persevered throughout this lengthy and challenging investigation, and grateful to the victims and witnesses who came forward.”

In August 2011, after LASD officials discovered a cell phone in an inmate’s cell at the Men’s Central Jail, linked the phone to the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and learned that the inmate was an FBI informant. The cell phone had been smuggled into the jail by a corrupt deputy who took bribes.

The FBI had developed the informant as part of an investigation into the county jail system, which for years had been the subject of allegations of inmate abuse and subsequent cover-ups. The evidence presented at trial showed that the sheriff wanted to avoid federal scrutiny of his troubled jails.

As part of the scheme to obstruct justice, Baca ordered a criminal investigation of the FBI agents conducting the investigation, and he directed his underlings to conceal the informant from federal investigators. Over the course of approximately six weeks, members of the conspiracy then took a series of steps that successfully hid the informant from federal authorities, engaged in witness tampering in an effort to prevent information from being shared with federal authorities, and threatened to arrest the lead FBI agent on the case.

When Baca watched a recording of his deputies confronting the FBI agent, he reacted by stating “it was the best laugh he had in some time,” prosecutors noted in their sentencing memorandum filed with the court.

While Baca put his right-hand man, then-undersheriff Paul Tanaka, in charge of the scheme, Baca participated in dozens of meetings and phone calls with members of the conspiracy and directed his deputies to approach the FBI agent. Baca participated in the scheme after being warned by a top deputy that the actions would amount to obstruction of justice.

The case against Baca is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is one in a series of cases resulting from the investigation into county jail facilities in downtown Los Angeles that has resulted in 21 convictions.

Baca was the tenth member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted in the obstruction scheme. Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was also found guilty by a federal jury, was sentenced last year to five years in federal prison. At today’s sentencing hearing, Judge Anderson said Baca would have received a sentence as long as Tanaka’s, except for his medical condition and the former sheriff’s lengthy history of public service.

Eleven other former deputies have been convicted of federal charges, mostly related to unprovoked beatings of inmates and subsequent cover-ups.


Don’t worry, his 36 months will be cut by half, or 2/3, and possible no “real” jail time at all, plus his pension will stay intact likely he will still receive while he is in jail, (again if he actually serves). Again a double standard for the special people, not a “real” deterrent for more crimes to be committed by others. “Regular” folks would spent upwards of a decade or more in jail.

Jorge Estrada

Very sad and a disturbing end for an elected top cop. Their methods certainly need to be re-examined by all in this discipline.


Officer Tatro,

How many times did you cross that thin blue line and made sure a co-worker was held accountable? And was your attitude the same then as it is now? Typical tough cop bullshit; now you just hide behind CCN rather than your badge…


L.A. County Sheriffs = The largest multi-racial gang in the state!


“…Baca is expected to surrender on July 25 and serve out his time at a prison either at a federal facility at Terminal Island in San Pedro or in Sheridan, Oregon. Per state law, Baca will still receive his monthly pension and benefits of $20,233 for the time worked before the date the felony occurred, county officials said…”

A pension of over $20K/month? That in itself is criminal…


Let this be a warning to the South SLO County Sanitation District Board and administrators, past and present, and to all those who aid and abet their schemes and investigations and attempts to discredit any and all with integrity who stand up for best practice. Godspeed to our DA and law enforcement in bringing these perps to justice.

Jon Tatro

Well Sam Louis fake name, as a retired police officer of 29 years I’m always glad justice is done regardless of who they are or what they do. I guarantee my profession is much more honorable than your lame ass welfare collecting profession is so save your “ALL” statement for your trailer trash, EBT card friends.


My comments seem to have hit a nerve in you. Your psychological projections are rather unsettling. That’s on you. Let’s hope for your sake and others that you’re no longer an active public safety employee…


I think you overshot Simi Valley.

Did you make the same gross assumption’s about people during your 29 year career?

You know there are people out there who are not on the dole from the state ( employed or welfare ) as a third possibility. The private sector could have some space for samlouis.

From his post I think Sam is glad justice was served as well, but merely pointing out that the pension liability the state faces is almost criminal in and of itself.

You earned your pension–did your time :-) –but don’t come unglued when someone points out how poorly the system has been constructed and maintained.


“Judge Anderson said Baca would have received a sentence as long as Tanaka’s, except for his medical condition and the former sheriff’s lengthy history of public service”.

So it is true there is another set of rules for people in public service get lighter sentences or no punishment at all. Happens in SLO County all the time.

Baca was sheriff for 15 years. Things got so bad under his leadership the FBI was called in. And Baca thought he was above the law by defying and even trying to intimidate the FBI.

Does anyone think he wasn’t corrupt for most of those 16 years.

He should have gotten a much harsher sentence as he was the one calling the shots.

And a $7500 fine. What do think the government spent on the investigation and the prosecution.

It is my understanding that he likely get to keep part of his almost $20,000 a month pension!


The medical condition is early-stage Alzheimers. IF true, I don’t have a big problem with the light sentence because why should the taxpayer cover the very high cost of treating a man who’s mind is following his morals into the gutter. I am more annoyed that all these jerks are allowed out on bail pending the lengthy appeals processes. THAT is special treatment.


My goodness. There is justice now and then! It’s scary when dangerous vermin like Baca and Tanaka — and a host of others, are allowed to wield the awesome power they once did. Let this be a wake-up call to ALL public safety employees, particularly those in command positions.