Crime & Justice

Former employees testify against ex-Sheriff Baca in corruption trial

File: Baca (center) and his attorney Nathan Hochman (right) outside a federal court in Los Angeles after a judge declared a mistrial in the obstruction of justice case against him. He's now being retried.
File: Baca (center) and his attorney Nathan Hochman (right) outside a federal court in Los Angeles after a judge declared a mistrial in the obstruction of justice case against him. He's now being retried.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

During the first week of testimony, federal prosecutors trotted out multiple former and current sheriff department employees as they laid out their case against ex-Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Baca is accused of thwarting an FBI investigation into the county's jails back in 2011, and lying to federal agents.

Former Sheriff's Captain Tom Carey spent several hours on the stand on Thursday and Friday and pointed to Baca numerous times.

“We were following the directions of the sheriff,” Carey said, “He was the engine of the train…it’s like he cut us loose.”

In retrospect, he told the jury “our moves, our tactics” were “obstruction.”

The ordeal started in 2011 when Baca's employees learned the FBI was investigating allegations of abusive deputies in the jails. The deputies then schemed to hide the FBI’s inmate informant from federal investigators, and later approached an FBI agent at her house, threatening her with arrest.

Several department employees have since been convicted or pleaded guilty. Carey took a deal in which he plead guilty to perjury. He’s also accused of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He has yet to be sentenced and his cooperation in the case against the sheriff could inspire leniency.

In addition to Carey, others to take the stand this week include former Deputy Mikey Manzo, former Deputy James Sexton and Lieutenant Gregory Thompson, all of whom have been convicted for their roles in the scheme and were called to testify by prosecutors.

But Baca’s attorney Nathan Hochman says the sheriff was not part of their conspiracy and only intended to protect the inmate informant from “snitch” retaliation. Hochman has also argued that Baca only wanted to ask the FBI agent questions.

"Carrying out that agenda is not an abuse of power," he said during opening statements.

Hochman played tapes of Baca’s subsequent interview with federal investigators. When asked about his employees threatening to arrest the FBI agent, Baca told them “had I been told…I would have said don’t do that.”

The jury also heard from Baca's former driver and a journalist. Robert Faturechi was covering the sheriff's department for the Los Angeles Times at the time of the scandal and was subpoenaed to testify about his 2011 interview with Baca.

Prosecutors asked Faturechi if Baca told him he sent officers to the home of the FBI agent.

"Yes," Faturechi said. 

Prosecutors are expected to continue to call witnesses through next week.