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Baca criticized for endorsing health company that gave to his campaign

Lee BacaPoliticsElectionsFitness

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is being criticized for pitching a dietary supplement for a company that contributed to his campaign.

Videos posted online showed Baca boosting health products from a company called YOR Health. That same company donated $1,000 to Baca’s political campaign, the sheriff’s spokesman acknowledged. 

The connection was first reported by CBS2 and ABC7 this week. Since those news reports, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Baca has asked that the videos be taken down.

Whitmore said Baca was unaware that the company had given him a political contribution, and endorsed the product only because the sheriff is a fitness fanatic and uses the product himself.

“He loves the product. His heart was in the right place. The implementation may have been a little overzealous,” Whitmore said. “In retrospect, he admits he probably shouldn’t have done these videos. Elected officials want to stay above the fray -- they don’t even want a hint of controversy.”

When asked about the online postings by The Times several months ago, Whitmore denied that Baca had received anything from the company. He now acknowledged that he was mistaken. In addition to the company's May 2010 contribution to Baca's campaign, it reimbursed the sheriff about $500 for travel expenses to a company event in Las Vegas.

“He doesn’t know who donates to his campaign,” Whitmore said. Baca has not been given any other payment by the company, Whitmore added.

No one at YOR Health could immediately be reached for comment.

In 2011, The Times did an analysis of Baca’s gift records and found that he had accepted about $120,000 in gifts and travel reimbursements since becoming sheriff. In a recent three-year span, the analysis showed, Baca accepted significantly more freebies than California's 57 other sheriffs combined.

The donors included executives seeking his agency's business, individuals who later received special treatment from him, and even a pair of felons implicated in a massive money-laundering and fraud scheme. Donors gave Baca free rounds of golf, meals, fine wines and liquor, and tickets to sporting events.

State law allows local officials to accept gifts, with some restrictions. But government watchdogs pointed out at the time that Baca's willingness to accept so many gifts creates potential conflicts of interest.

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Twitter: RobertFaturechi

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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