Crime & Justice

Former Sheriff Baca faces old employees in corruption trial

 Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his unexpected retirement on January 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his unexpected retirement on January 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

Federal prosecutors called more former sheriff’s officials to the witness stand Friday in their effort to show ex-sheriff Lee Baca tried to block an FBI investigation into brutality by his deputies inside Los Angeles County jails.

The once powerful lawman stands accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstructing justice and making false statements.

Former deputy Mickey Manzo, who started his testimony Thursday, explained in detail how a group of deputies hid a secret informant from the FBI by moving him from jail to jail. He said the inmate, Anthony Brown, had been given a cell phone to send pictures and reports of beatings to the FBI.

Baca’s orders included isolating Brown to keep him safe, said Manzo. After all, Brown would be considered a jail snitch for his actions and could be a target by both deputies and fellow inmates.

“We were ordered to keep him,” Manzo said.

“By who?” asked Assistant United States Attorney Brandon Fox.

“The sheriff,” said Manzo, who already has been convicted in the scheme and sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison.

Baca has said he was only interested in making sure Brown was safe. By hiding him, it also had the effect of slowing any FBI investigation into his jails. Prosecutors argue that was the former sheriff’s real motive.

Former deputy James Sexton also testified Friday. Like Manzo, he too has already been convicted. Sexton helped erase the informant’s name from electronic records so that the FBI would believe he’d been transferred, following orders from a lieutenant.

“Did they tell you where the orders were coming from,” asked Fox.

“They routinely said all the way to the top,” replied Sexton.

Baca defense attorney Tinos Diamantatos sought to raise questions about the credibility of Sexton and Manzo. He suggested both were testifying in hopes of getting the government to support a lower prison sentence.

Sexton has been sentenced to 18 months, which he already has started. Manzo has been sentenced to two years.

“You certainly want the government to make that motion,” said Diamantatos.

“Yes,” said Manzo, who has yet to starting serving his time behind bars.

Former Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo also testified Friday. He said he warned Baca against interfering with the FBI probe, which included giving the informant a cell phone.

But Baca was angry, and he wondered why the feds were working secretly inside his jails, Rhambo testified. He spoke outside the courthouse.

“Why couldn’t we work cooperatively,” Rhambo recalled Baca saying.

“I just had to tell him, ‘because we were the suspects,” said Rhambo.

The big question remains: will Baca, now 74 years old and ailing from Alzheimer’s, testifiy in his own defense?