Lead Story Northeast Edition

Former Sheriff Baca diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

LOS ANGELES — Former County Sheriff Lee Baca, who admitted lying to federal investigators during an FBI probe of corruption in the jail system, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, according to court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Despite the diagnosis, however, prosecutors ask in the document that Baca still be sentenced to six months in prison, the maximum term available under his plea agreement.

According to the 20-page court filing, the 74-year-old Baca is physically fit and “able to function in his daily life,” and his Alzheimer’s diagnosis has “an uncertain prognosis for how quickly it will deteriorate his cognitive function.”

“The agreement and the six-month sentence are appropriate after taking into account all sides of defendant Baca, including his crime, his current health and his likely prognosis,” according to the document signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox.

Baca pleaded guilty Feb. 10, admitting that he lied to investigators in 2013 when he said he was unaware that sheriff’s deputies were going to the home of an FBI agent to confront and threaten her over her involvement in the corruption probe of the department.

Baca was not only aware of the 2011 plan to frighten agent Leah Marx, but specifically told the deputies they “should do everything but put handcuffs” on her, prosecutors contend.

Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.

According to the court filing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office “does not view defendant’s current condition as having any effect on his decision to lie to the federal government during his interview.”

Prosecutors consulted with a medical expert who reviewed Baca’s test results and clinical reports, confirming that the former sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but his cognitive impairment so far is mild. The expert concluded that Baca’s cognitive impairment will be “severe in five to 10 years.”

“While Alzheimer’s disease’s progression is hard to predict, his long-term prognosis is bleak,” according to the court document.

Prosecutors note in the court document that Baca lied to investigators to either avoid “political fallout” or to avoid criminal charges.

“Defendant’s lies showed that corruption went all the way to the top of the Sheriff’s Department,” prosecutors wrote in the document. “But his crime is not as serious as the crimes by the members of the Sheriff’s Department who were convicted of beating inmates and filing false reports in order to have people charged with offenses they did not commit.”

Prosecutors also noted there is no evidence that Baca was directly involved in efforts by his subordinates, including former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, to tamper with witnesses and hide a jail inmate-turned-FBI-informant from his federal handlers.

That inmate, Anthony Brown, was hidden from FBI handlers during a time when federal officials were conducting a probe of alleged deputy violence against prisoners. Brown was booked and re-booked under a series of false names, and was eventually told he had been abandoned by the FBI.

Baca is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.