Prosecutors: Los Angeles County sheriff obstructed FBI probe

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Prosecutors said Monday there is direct evidence showing that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca obstructed an FBI investigation into corruption at the county jails and that he lied several times to federal authorities in order to thwart the civil rights probe.

Following nearly two weeks of testimony, lawyers for both sides presented their closing arguments to jurors in the federal corruption trial of Baca.

The defense argument was ongoing and expected to last several hours.

Baca, 74, is accused of obstructing justice and lying to investigators in what federal prosecutors have said was an attempt to stymie an FBI probe into guards who savagely beat inmates in the jails run by Baca and deputies who smuggled contraband to prisoners.

If convicted, Baca, who has early stage Alzheimer's disease, could face up to 20 years in prison.

Baca, who headed the nation's largest sheriff's department for 15 years before he resigned in 2014, is accused of a 2011 conspiracy to derail the FBI probe after jail guards discovered an inmate with a contraband cellphone was acting as an FBI informant.

An undercover FBI agent had bribed a guard to give the phone to the inmate so he could stay in touch with the FBI and shoot photos and video of beatings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Fox told jurors last month that Baca wanted to conceal the criminal conduct and engaged in an elaborate scheme to hide the informant from his federal handlers.

Baca's attorney, Nathan Hochman, denied that Baca had any knowledge that the informant was being moved and decried the FBI's probe as a rookie investigation riddled with blunders.

Several of Baca's former deputies testified during the trial that they believed Baca knew of their actions to hide the informant.

An FBI agent who was leading the investigation into the abuse at the jail told jurors last week that while she was investigating the case, two sheriff's sergeants went to her home and threatened to arrest her.

In his opening statements in late February, Hochman told jurors that Baca "did not lie, hide, conceal what happened 20 months before, but explained it to the best of his memory."

Baca did not testify in his own his defense.

It's the second time Baca has faced trial on charges that he conspired with underlings and obstructed justice in the investigation of civil abuses in the nation's largest jail system.

In December, jurors deadlocked and a mistrial was declared. He was going to face a separate trial on a lying charge, but prosecutors added that count to the other two charges in the retrial.

A psychiatrist has said Baca's memory could have been impaired when he told prosecutors in 2013 he was unaware of actions taken by deputies to thwart the FBI investigation, though his defense attorney was unable to present that as a defense.


Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter @MikeBalsamo1.

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