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About 20 members of the county sheriff’s office were charged with conspiring in various ways to block the probe, lying to federal investigators, witness intimidation, and conspiring to cover up their actions.

Jails Scandal Brings Ex-L.A. County Sheriff Three Years in Prison

The sentencing judge said that former L.A. sheriff Leroy Baca was guilty of a gross abuse of the public trust placed in him, by covering up inmate mistreatment and attempting to block an FBI investigation.

A federal judge has handed a three-year prison sentence to Leroy “Lee” Baca, who was sheriff of Los Angeles County for 15 years, for his role in covering up abuses in the county’s jail system that was being investigated by the FBI. The L.A. Sheriff’s Department has more than 18,000 employees and is responsible for policing over 4,000 square miles and the nation’s largest jail system.

Judge Percy Anderson, who last year rejected as too lenient a proposed plea bargain that would have brought Baca no more than six months in prison, said at the May 12 sentencing that the former sheriff was guilty of a “gross abuse” of the public trust placed in him. The judge said his stringent sentence was designed in part to act as a deterrent to misconduct by other officials.

In 2010, the FBI began to investigate reports of brutality by jail personnel and official cover-ups of inmate mistreatment. About 20 members of the county sheriff’s office were charged with conspiring in various ways to block the probe, lying to federal investigators, witness intimidation, and conspiring to cover up their actions. Baca stepped down in 2014, when the scandal gained high visibility. He and his right-hand man, undersheriff Paul Tanaka, were indicted in 2015.

In April 2016, a jury convicted Tanaka of obstructing the FBI’s probe, and sentenced him to a five-year term. According to complaints, after the FBI bribed a jail employee to smuggle a cellphone into an inmate cooperating with the probe, Tanaka and others conspired to keep the informant from communicating with the investigators, at one point shuttling him to various locations inside the Men’s Central Jail and outside it, under false names, for more than a month to keep the informant’s FBI handlers from communicating with him.

At one point, in an attempt to learn what the FBI had discovered, deputies reporting to Tanaka and Baca even threatened the lead FBI investigating agent with arrest. Eight other sheriff’s office personnel have been convicted in the long-running scandal, on charges ranging from inmate abuse to obstructing or lying to a federal investigator.

Baca’s first trial ended in a mistrial in December, when the jury deadlocked, with all but one member favoring acquittal. His defense argued any actions aimed at blocking the FBI probe were carried out without Baca’s knowledge, but some underlings testified that the chief had directed some parts of the plot and had been kept informed of others.

It has not yet been determined to which federal prison Baca—who is 74 and has been diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s—will have to report by July 25. Baca’s condition was doubtless a factor in his prison term being set lower than the sentencing guidelines recommendation of between 41 and 51 months. But Judge Jackson’s sentence was a year more than what had been recommended by federal prosecutors.

The ex-lawman has asked to be allowed to remain out on bail while his sentence is appealed, but it is not clear whether that request will be granted. He’ll also face a year’s supervision after his release and have to pay a $7,500 fine.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to The Huffington PostNew York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and Prisonerresource.com.

About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, a writer currently incarcerated at FCC Petersburg (Medium), is an impassioned and active prison education advocate, a legal commentator, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and prison law articles. While living in federal prison at various security levels, retaliations for his activism have earned him long stretches in solitary, or "the hole." While in prison, he has earned numerous academic, legal, and ministerial credentials. Christopher is very knowledgeable about prison-related legal issues, prison policy, federal regulations, and case law. He is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014) and thePrison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). The Federal Prison Handbook is an IndieReader Discovery Awards winner. A regularly featured contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Prison Legal News, the nation's most prominent prison law publication, Christopher has enjoyed significant media exposure through appearances with the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch, Vice.com, Salon.com, In These Times, The Jeff McArthur Show, The Simi Sara Show,TheCommentary.ca, 88.9 WERS' award-winning "You Are Here" radio segment, and The Examiner. Other articles and book reviews appeared in The New York Journal of Books, the Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, Midwest Book Review, Basil and Spice, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, AND Magazine, Truth-Out.org, Rain Taxi, and the Education Behind Bars Newsletter, with content syndicated by the Associated Press, Google News, and Yahoo News. He established three websites: PrisonEducation.com, PrisonerResource.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com, and was a former editor of the Education Behind Bars Newsletter. In 2011, his fiction won two PEN American Center Prison Writing Awards for a screenplay and a short story. He taught a popular course on writing and publishing to over 100 fellow prisoners. Today Christopher is successfully working on a Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Business/Law) from Adams State University. Following his 2016 graduation, he plans on attending Adams State University's MBA program. He regularly advises fellow prisoners and prison consultants about legal issues and federal regulations governing the Federal Bureau of Prisons operations. Upon release he plans to attend law school and become a federal criminal defense attorney. Christopher will not allow incarceration to waste his years or halt the progress of his life. He began his prison terms as a confused kid who made poor decisions but is today determined to create a better life. "We can't let the past define us," he says. "We have to do something today to make tomorrow what we want it to be."

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