Los Angeles (KABC) --Eyewitness News has learned that former L.A. County Sheriff Leroy Baca was under investigation by his own department for more than two years for alleged conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The L.A. County District Attorney's Office has now declined to file charges against Baca or his former Field Deputy Bishop Edward Turner, who was being investigated for alleged charity fraud and theft.
It's a case that began with an Eyewitness News Investigation of Bishop Turner back in 2013.
Turner was one of four civilian field deputies hired by Sheriff Baca. Turner made $114,584 a year in salary, along with a county car, county-paid-for gas and a sworn deputy sheriff as his part-time aide. All were on the taxpayers' dime.
Eyewitness News began asking questions about Turner's job duties as a field deputy and director of the LASD's Executive Clergy Council. Turner told us his responsibilities included "constituent outreach" and drug-abuse prevention programs like the Foundation for a Drug-Free World program, which is backed by the Church of Scientology.
Strangely enough, Eyewitness News learned that Turner, then one of Baca's top civilian aides, was also a landlord to an illegal marijuana dispensary which operated directly across the street from Turner's church, the Power of Love Christian Fellowship in South L.A.
Eyewitness News Anchor Marc Brown asked Turner in 2013 if he was aware the dispensary was operating illegally.
"I was not aware of that," said Turner, who went on to explain that a management company arranged the lease. The dispensary, Manchester Caregivers, has since shut its doors.
Turner told Eyewitness News, no -- he had not informed the Sheriff of his business ties to the dispensary.
"I'm not trying to hide anything. It's just there, it's right there. I just did not think to bring it to the Sheriff," he said.
Sheriff Baca, at the time, was a vocal critic of the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries which he referred to as "criminal enterprises" that had strayed away from their original mission to aid the seriously ill.
In 2010, Baca and Turner appeared together on the Trinity Broadcasting Network's "Praise the Lord" television program as part of the sheriff department's campaign against Prop 19, which would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana under state law.
"I'm going to say 'amen' to this point, and that is it kills brain cells," Baca said of marijuana as Turner sat alongside him.
"They're making literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and some are making millions because people are using this drug recreationally," said Baca on the TV program.
Bishop Turner did not discuss marijuana on the program, but did tell the hosts he and Baca had been brought together by "divine destiny."
"We are the, basically, the authorities in the communities. And here you have God's law and then there is man's law," said Turner, who went on to note that the "scripture tells us to obey the laws of the land."
Bishop Turner was relieved of duty from the sheriff's department as our first story went to air in November 2013. Two months later, and in the wake of 18 members of the LASD being federally indicted on unrelated charges, Baca abruptly retired and asked Turner to resign from his position.
QUESTIONS ABOUT A 2005 NARCOTICS INVESTIGATION
Our investigation also raised questions about the Sheriff Department's handling of a mysterious package of drug money sent to Bishop Turner's church in South L.A. back in 2005. The package, which was not addressed to a specific person at the church, contained $84,020 in cash -- vacuum-sealed in clear plastic and wrapped with rubber bands.
The package was intercepted by a sheriff's department narcotics team and seized after a drug-sniffing dog named Jake "hit" on the package. Detectives determined the cash was the "direct proceeds from the sale of controlled substances, or illegal narcotics," according to the 2005 LASD incident report obtained by Eyewitness News.
"I was totally appalled and upset about that situation," Turner told Eyewitness News in 2013, adding that he didn't know anyone in New York who would send a box of $84,020 in cash to his church.
"Why would somebody send that money to your church?" Marc Brown asked Turner.
"Why do people do the things they do?" responded Bishop Turner.
LASD investigators could not tie the drug money to Turner or anyone else, but questions were raised about how hard they tried, and whether the handling detective was pressured by LASD higher-ups to back off from looking too closely the politically-connected Bishop.
Former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was running a hard-fought campaign against Baca for Sheriff in 2013, publicly accused Baca of squashing the 2005 investigation into Turner.
"I was told... that the investigation had been squashed, basically -- had been terminated on orders of the Sheriff," Tanaka told Eyewitness News.
Tanaka said he was told the LASD narcotics detective who intercepted the package allegedly received a phone call from a sergeant who claimed to be speaking on behalf of Sheriff Baca and told him, "The investigation is done, you will not interview the Bishop."
Sheriff Baca, through his spokesperson at the time, denied any such thing.
"The sheriff does not stop investigations, he initiates them -- and this particular allegation is absolutely false," Steve Whitmore told Eyewitness News.
ALLEGATION REGARDING CHARITY THEFT AND FRAUD
Our investigation also uncovered that Bishop Turner's non-profit organization "HOPE for Life Foundation," which the Sheriff's Department helped to raise money for, had not filed its tax returns as required by law since 2009. The IRS revoked its tax exemption.
Turner told Eyewitness News he "wasn't aware of that" and we should call his accountant. We called, but Turner's accountant hung up on us -- twice.
2013: CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED BY LASD
Days after our stories aired, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department launched a criminal investigation that ultimately looked at two key questions: Did Sheriff Baca conspire to obstruct justice and quash the 2005 investigation into Bishop Turner and that mysterious box of drug money sent to his church? And... did Bishop Turner commit theft or charity fraud related to money raised for his non-profit at a 2012 event hosted by the Sheriff's Department?
Eyewitness News obtained the District Attorney's "Charge Evaluation Worksheet" which details why no charges will be filed.
On the first question, conspiracy to obstruct justice: Detectives with LASD's Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau (ICIB) interviewed ten current and former members of the Department, including former Sheriff Baca. The D.A. reviewed the case and found "insufficient evidence" to prove that anyone conspired to "terminate the 2005 investigation against Bishop Turner."
"It is reasonable to conclude that the investigation came to a conclusion in 2005 due to a lack of evidence against Turner rather than by order of Baca or other senior official within the LASD," the memo reads.
The memo notes that several key people declined to be interviewed, including Paul Tanaka, Bishop Turner and the now-retired LASD narcotics detective Dave Busk, who - according to the memo - had several colleagues who indicated he told them he'd been pressured to back off from the investigation.
Others who declined to be interviewed include Commander Rod Kusch, retired Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo and retired Lt. Greg Saunders.
Baca told LASD investigators that he recalled hearing about the "suspicious package" from someone in "the chain of command," but did not know if the investigation was ever stopped.
"If that occurred, it was not at his direction, either directly or indirectly," Baca told investigators according to the D.A. memo.
On the second question, alleged charity theft or fraud related to Turner's non-profit "HOPE for Life Foundation," LASD investigators looked specifically at the 2012 "Multi-Faith Prayer Breakfast" and "Community Day" event which was hosted by the LASD's "Clergy Council" and held at Turner's church on Manchester Boulevard.
The LASD created a "Prayer Breakfast Committee" to help raise funds to hold the event, and asked another LASD-related non-profit "Cops 4 Causes," to chip in on costs which included food purchased from the LASD Food Services Cafeteria.
The D.A.'s memo notes that tickets to the event specified a donation amount of $250 for a table and $25 for a seat, but did not indicate "which organization, if any, would benefit from any donations received or how the money would be used."
LASD investigators executed search warrants on Bishop Turner's 10+ bank accounts, but the bank records "provide little guidance with respect to how any monies collected were ultimately distributed," according to the memo.
The memo notes that the LASD did not request any documentation or accounting of the money raised, and that because Turner's non-profit had not filed tax returns for three years, as required by law, "no tax information was available" to determine whether the money raised benefited Turner's charity.
"Since Turner was essentially permitted to collect donations or fees without any accountability to the LASD, it is not only unknown how much money was collected, but also whether the money was used for a charitable purpose," the D.A.'s memo reads.
Former Sheriff Baca was among those interviewed by ICIB investigators on this aspect of the case, and stated that he "did not believe there was any fraudulent accounting by Turner," and that he never asked for "any fiscal reports related to the event."
Baca told investigators he never checked to see if Turner's non-profit was "properly registered" and would have "relied upon his staff to make such inquiries if deemed appropriate."
Bishop Turner, again, declined to be interviewed by ICIB investigators, as did his assistant Scottie Gray.
"The fact that Turner collected funds at the event and it is unknown how they were used, does not prove that he committed the crime of charity fraud," the memo states.
"The fact remains that there is no evidence that Turner made an unqualified statement of fact concerning the purpose or organization for which the money was solicited or received," the D.A.'s memo states. "As such, the evidence is insufficient to prove that Turner committed this offense."
In 2014, the ICIB investigators on the case, Sgts. Stephanie Shrout and Steve Long, spoke with an IRS Criminal Investigator to determine whether the IRS would conduct its own federal investigation into potential tax violations by Turner. The IRS declined to investigate, according to the D.A. memo, because "the matter did not meet their specified criteria."
Two years later, in 2016, Sgts. Shrout and Long, along with members of the District Attorney's "Justice System Integrity Division," met with a Special Agent of the California Franchise Tax Board to request that the FTB conduct its own investigation into potential state tax code violations. The FTB also declined take the case because "the lack of documentation and deposits per bank statements do not meet our felony criteria," according to the D.A. memo.
Will there be an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation? Most ICIB cases that are declined by the District Attorney's Office are turned over to the Internal Affairs Bureau. In this case, most of the key players are retired. Still, an LASD spokesperson says the case "is being reviewed in terms of identifying whether or not there are any potential policy violations that need to be investigated by Internal Affairs Bureau."
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Eyewitness News tried to reach Bishop Turner at his church and outside his home. Turner's "Power of Love" church appears to still be open, although its external signs have either been removed or damaged and no one answered the door on a recent afternoon. A woman outside Turner's home told Eyewitness News Anchor Marc Brown to contact Turner's attorney, Carl Douglas. Douglas has not returned our repeated calls and emails.
Turner's "HOPE for Life Foundation" has not taken any public action to attempt to reinstate its tax-exempt status. Manchester Caregivers, the marijuana dispensary that operated in a building owned by Turner, has been replaced by a clothing store. Bishop Turner is currently being sued by Wells Fargo for allegedly failing to pay $45,000 in credit card bills, a claim his attorney has denied in court papers.
Former Sheriff Leroy Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are both now facing federal prison for their roles in the scheme to thwart an FBI investigation into abuse and corruption inside L.A. County jails.
Tanaka was found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in April. He's scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on June 27th. Tanaka is facing a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Baca took a surprise plea deal in February to avoid a possible federal indictment on more serious charges. The former sheriff agreed to plead guilty to a single count of making a false statement to federal investigators concerning his knowledge of the LASD plan to confront and threaten to arrest the lead FBI agent on the case.
Baca is scheduled to be sentenced, also before Judge Anderson, on July 11th. The statutory maximum sentence for a false statement charge is 5 years, but prosecutors agreed not to seek a prison term of more than six months as part of the plea deal.
Judge Anderson, however, is not bound by that plea deal and speculation is rampant about whether he'll impose a sentence of more than six months. If that occurs, Baca's plea deal falls apart, and everyone goes back to square one. Prosecutors would have decide if they want to indict Baca, or - more likely, renegotiate a plea deal more to the liking of Judge Anderson.
WHAT'S BECOME OF THE CONTROVERSIAL LASD FIELD DEPUTY PROGRAM?
Eyewitness News asked the LASD about the outcome of an official "inquiry" promised by Interim Sheriff John Scott after our story on another field deputy -- Michael Yamaki -- aired in January of 2014 and Scott suspended the field deputy program. Yamaki, whose official title was "Executive Assistant," earned $171,000 a year, drove a county car, had no phone line or office at LASD headquarters, and appeared to spend the majority of his days at the Riviera Country Club. Yamaki is a politically connected attorney and friend of Baca who loaned the former sheriff $20,000 back in 1998 during his first campaign.
An LASD spokesperson tells Eyewitness News an "inquiry" conducted by the LASD Professional Standards Division was completed in August of 2014 and "did not reveal evidence of misconduct on Mr. Yamaki's part."
We did not receive a response to our specific question as to whether there was an investigation into whether the "Field Deputy" program as a whole was a potential misuse of public funds. Two of the four "Field Deputy" positions have since been filled by Sheriff Jim McDonnell, but those positions are not political in nature.
Got a tip? Email Investigative Producer Lisa.Bartley@abc.com