A federal grand jury Friday handed down two new charges against former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, including charges he conspired to obstruct justice and obstructed justice in connection with his department’s efforts to block a federal investigation into the jails. A charge of lying to federal agents in a previous indictment is also included in this one.
Baca had cut a deal with prosecutors in the first indictment, agreeing to plead guilty to lying to federal agents in exchange for a prison sentence of no more than six months. But Judge Percy Anderson rejected the deal, calling it too lenient on the once-powerful sheriff.
Baca could have still pled guilty and faced a maximum of five years in prison for the lying charge — but he elected to face a jury trial rather than Anderson's sentence. Now, with the new charges, Baca faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Baca, 74, is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's. His attorney has said Baca will likely decline rapidly in the next couple of years, and that the sheriff is trying to avoid spending his last good years behind bars. The gamble is that the soft-spoken, cerebral Baca will be a sympathetic character to a jury.
The case arises out of a federal investigation into brutality inside L.A. County’s jails — and efforts by the department to block it. At one point, deputies hid the FBI’s jail informant so he could not feed information to the agency. At another point, deputies threatened a female FBI agent with arrest in an attempt to get her to back off the investigation.
In his previous plea deal, Baca admitted he lied when he said he did not know deputies would try to intimidate the agent. In fact, he admitted he directed the deputies to "do everything but put handcuffs" on her.
The new charges mean federal prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to prove Baca not only lied about the scheme to block the FBI investigation, but actually participated in it.
The trial is set to begin in September.
Read the full indictment here:
This story has been updated.