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Former LA County Sheriff convicted in obstruction case

By Ed Adamczyk

March 16 (UPI) -- Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted of obstructing an FBI investigation of abuses in county jails.

Baca, 74, led the county sheriff's office for 15 years and developed a national reputation for progressive ideas on law enforcement. He suffers from early-stage Alzheimer's disease, and although he said he would appeal the verdict announced Wednesday, he likely faces time in a federal prison.

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Allegations that deputies routinely beat inmates in county jails led to an FBI investigation, and prosecutors identified employees of the sheriff's department who worked to impede that investigation. Ten people, including Baca and second-in-command Paul Tanaka, pleaded guilty or were convicted. Others were found guilty of civil rights violations for beating inmates, and one visitor, in jails.

Baca was tried in 2016 and after a mistrial, prosecutors chose to retry him. On Wednesday, a jury unanimously found him guilty of obstructing a federal investigation, conspiracy and lying to federal authorities, all felonies.

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"This verdict sends a clear message that no one is above the law. With a career in law enforcement, he knew right from wrong. And he made a decision that was to commit a crime ... and when the time came, he lied. He lied to cover up his tracks," said Acting U.S. District Attorney Sandra Brown after the verdict.

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Prosecutors said Baca was angered by what he saw as an FBI invasion of his authority and sought to subvert the federal agency and a grand jury impaneled to hear evidence from FBI agents.

Baca now faces up to 20 years in prison.

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