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Federal prosecutors seek two-year prison term for convicted former Sheriff Lee Baca

Federal prosecutors seek two-year prison term for convicted former Sheriff Lee Baca
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca leaves the Los Angeles federal courthouse after he was convicted of three charges of orchestrating a scheme to thwart an FBI investigation into inmate mistreatment. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Federal prosecutors will seek to put former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in prison for two years when he is sentenced next month for obstructing a probe into abuses at county jails, according to court documents.

In an 11-page document filed Monday, federal prosecutors said they took Baca's age and the fact that he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease into account when recommending the sentence. If not for his condition, prosecutors wrote, Baca should have faced up to four years and three months in prison.

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"Defendant's age and cognitive condition call for a below-Guideline sentence because the interests of justice will not be served by defendant spending many years behind bars in a severely impaired state," the document read.

Baca, 74, was convicted in March of obstruction of justice, conspiracy and making false statements to federal investigators in connection with a 2011 federal review of abuses inside the county's jail system.

The case focused on six weeks in August and September 2011 following the discovery by sheriff's officials that FBI agents had bribed a deputy to smuggle a cellphone to their inmate informant, a convicted violent felon. The sting operation was part of a larger investigation into allegations of widespread corruption by deputies working in the jails, including claims that inmates were routinely beaten without justification.

Prosecutors contended that Baca was aware of an intimidation plot that involved sending sheriff's officials to the home of an FBI agent, and efforts to hide an inmate who was acting as a federal informant from his FBI handlers.

In 2016, Baca pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal investigators in exchange for a six-month prison sentence. But Baca withdrew his plea after a federal judge determined his sentence was too lenient.

In all, 10 sheriff's officials, including Baca's former second in command, have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the abuse scandal.

Nathan J. Hochman, Baca's lead defense attorney, argued that the ex-sheriff should be sentenced to house arrest in a separate motion, due to what he described as Baca's rapidly deteriorating medical condition.

Hochman asked the court to weigh Baca's decades-long career in law enforcement against the nonviolent crimes he was convicted of, and the doctors' belief that Baca's condition has worsened from "mild cognitive impairment" to "mild dementia."

"This diagnosis is a sentence of its own. It is a sentence that will leave him a mere shell of his former self and one that will rob him of the memories of his life," Hochman wrote. "Ultimately, he won't remember the decades he devoted to his community or the people whose lives he helped change for the better, not to mention the names or memories of his friends and family."

Baca will be sentenced May 12, and if past sentences in the case are any indication, he should not expect leniency. Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was Baca's second in command during the scandal, is serving a five-year prison term after he was convicted of obstruction and conspiracy charges.

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.

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