Nearly three years after his conviction on federal obstruction charges, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was ordered to begin serving his three-year prison sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take his appeal, reports Courthouse News Service. Leroy “Lee” Baca, 77, served as the top-ranking elected law enforcement official in L.A. County from 1998 until his fourth term starting in 2010. He was ordered to surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in the next three weeks. In 2017, a jury convicted Baca for orchestrating a scheme to interfere in a federal investigation into widespread abuse of inmates by officers at the L.A. County Jail.
Baca’s downfall began with a smuggled cellphone hidden in a Doritos bag at the jail. In 2011, jailers discovered the phone in the belongings of Anthony Brown, an inmate-informant who was enlisted to work with the FBI looking into the abuse claims. Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka carried out a series of maneuvers over the course of six weeks to hide Brown within the jail system. Code-named Operation Pandora’s Box, sheriff’s officials moved Brown – a convicted bank robber – into a different jail under an alias to keep him out of reach of FBI agents. The FBI’s investigation into the Men’s Central Jail and the Twin Towards Correction Facility stalled as sheriff’s officials tried to keep Brown from testifying before a grand jury. Baca attorney Nathan Hochman framed Baca’s conduct as the furious reaction of an experienced official who knew only too well the dangers of allowing a cellphone into his jails. The concern for Baca was that any cellphone could be used to plan a drug deal or even a hit on another inmate.
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