Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca sentenced to 3 years in prison for obstruction

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been sentenced to three years in prison for obstructing an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran.

Baca, 74, was sentenced on Friday, two months after he was found guilty of obstructing justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to federal authorities.

As he walked into the courthouse, Baca remarked that the sentencing date was inevitable and that he has a "zen personality, so that's probably a whole thing right there." The former sheriff displayed no emotion as Judge Percy Anderson scathingly rebuked him before handing down the sentence.

Anderson described Baca's crimes as "a series of serious offenses -- conscious, volitional," adding that Baca knew what he was doing was wrong. The judge said Baca's "fall from such heights is tragic."

"His criminal conduct is so at odds with his public image -- core values, fairness, courage to stand up against bigotry," Anderson said.

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Lee Baca, former sheriff of L.A. County, was sentenced on Friday, May 12, 2017, two months after he was found guilty of obstructing justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to federal authorities.

Baca's 36-month sentence is one year more than the prosecution had asked for.

The judge said that, if not for Baca's Alzheimer's disease, which is progressively becoming worse, he would have given the sheriff five years in prison -- as much time as Paul Tanaka, the former L.A. County undersheriff received for his role in the corruption scandal.

Prosecutors said Tanaka was the leader and mastermind of the obstruction. Anderson said Tanaka was no rogue deputy and that Baca knew precisely what type of person Tanaka was when he promoted him to undersheriff.

MORE: Audio recordings reveal alleged Baca lies

"It was an honor to serve the county of Los Angeles for over 48 years," the ex-sheriff told reporters after the sentencing hearing, "and there are things about that process that I thought were important. Core values do count. There's a lot of folks that don't necessarily think that core values matter, but I'm one that does."

At a separate news conference, Sandra Brown, acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said the "punishment follows a trial where a jury found him guilty of leading a conspiracy, obstructing a federal civil-rights investigation into the jails, and lying to federal officers."

"The evidence gathered by the FBI, and presented by the prosecutors, shows the former sheriff committed crimes and broke the law," Brown added.

The FBI was looking into possible wrongdoing within the jail system -- specifically inmate abuse inside the Men's Central Jail.

Baca abruptly resigned in 2014 as the probe netted several underlings who plotted to hide an inmate informant from his FBI handler when they learned the jails were being investigated.

The crimes tarnished Baca's reputation as a man on a mission to promote education and rehabilitation behind bars and who preached tolerance and understanding between people of different cultures and faiths.

The judge said Friday's sentence will send a message of deterrence -- that no person, no matter how powerful, is above the law.

Baca's date of surrender is scheduled for July 25, though it is unclear if that may change.

Baca has vowed to appeal his conviction -- no matter his sentence. Other deputy defendants in the scandal were allowed to remain out of custody pending their appeals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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