The Retrial of Lee Baca The Trial of Lee Baca

AFTER THE FALL: Why Judge Anderson’s 3-Year Sentence for Former LA Sheriff Lee Baca Was Not a Surprise

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

A “Tragic” Fall

“This is a sad day for our community,” said U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson on the morning of Friday, May 12, the day when he sentenced former Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca to three years in a federal prison.

Baca’s “fall from such heights is tragic for many reasons,” Anderson told the packed courtroom in a fierce prelude to the actual sentencing. Yet however painful Baca’s fall might be, the judge said, it was not enough to counter balance the necessity to hold the former sheriff accountable.

The government’s trio of lawyers had spent had spent the last nine months, which included two different criminal trials, working to convict the once powerful and popular Baca, after Anderson had dynamited Baca’s plea agreement with the feds in July 2016, pronouncing the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that was part of the agreement, “would trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Yet, as culpable as the government prosecutors held the former sheriff to be, they only recommended that the former sheriff be given a 24-month sentence, due to his age and his medical condition.

(Baca will be 75 on May 27, and he has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s Disease plus the beginnings of dementia, both of which are progressive, and can only be slowed down, not cured.)

The judge was not swayed by the prosecution, and dismissed the defense’s argument that it was Paul Tanaka, not Lee Baca, who was the primary bad actor in the conspiracy to obstruct justice, that led to indictments and convictions for ten department members, including Baca.

Anderson had presided over all six of the LASD obstruction trials—which included two trials for Baca, after the jury deadlocked 11 to one for acquittal in the former sheriff’s December 2016 trial—thus, by last Friday he seemed to have memorized even the tiniest of details of the combination of cases, and looked to have already drawn some firm conclusions.

“Mr. Baca knew what kind of person Tanaka was,” Anderson said. He was warned about Tanaka and warned about civil rights violations in the jails, and he failed to stop them.

When talking about the Tanaka issue in particular, Anderson leaned forward to stare at Baca with the bird-of-prey posture he employs when he is most intent on making sure no one misses his point. “You were all too happy to let people like Mr. Tanaka do your dirty work for you.” But Paul Tanaka “was not some rogue deputy,” said Anderson sternly. “You knew exactly what kind of person you were promoting.”

Anderson pronounced the relationship as being akin to the “good cop-bad cop routine” found in “a B movies.”

“Keeping your hands clean does not make you less culpable.” He said this in a tone that suggested that the clean hands strategy, might in some ways be worse. (Although likely not worse than Tanaka, whose pre-sentencing lecture by Anderson was not stern, but excoriating.

Baca betrayed “inmates who were his responsibility” who were consequently “brutalized by deputies” whom the former sheriff then protected, said Anderson, continuing to address Baca directly. “Your actions embarrassed the thousands of men and women who put their lives on the line every day.”


The Defense and the Prosecution

Before Anderson’s ferocious pre-sentence sermon, defense attorney Nathan Hochman spoke about why the judge should not give his client any prison time at all.

He cited a famous U.S. Supreme Court case concerning criminal sentencing, United States v. Booker, which allowed judges to deviate from federal sentencing guidelines that, up until Booker, had become nearly unbreachable walls.

Booker, Hochman said, freed the court from the shackles of the guidelines and instructed judges to “look at the person as an individual,” which was obviously the point he hoped Judge Anderson would take in looking at his client.

Hochman briefly described Lee Baca’s far less than sunny upbringing in East Los Angeles, how he was raised by his grandmother and his grandfather, not his parents, and how, as a kid, he had “to care for a developmentally disabled” adult uncle with whom he shared a bedroom.

The attorney spent a lot of time on Baca’s accomplishments, his education-based incarceration program inside the county’s jails, how he managed to get the funds for the creation of a much-praised regional crime lab, and other career high points. “Sheriff Baca has a lifetime’s worth of “deposits in the bank of good conduct,” said Hochman, which should be “drawn on now.”

As he had done in his written arguments, Hochman spent the most time on the former sheriff’s medical condition, which he said, along with Baca’s age, and his high profile law enforcement background would put him at great risk inside prison, both from guards and from other prisoners.

“He was really one of the good guys,” concluded Hochman, “who was responsible for changing people’s lives for the better.”

When Hochman sat down, prosecutor Fox, as expected, presented a very different point of view.

Baca’s “Education Based Incarceration” program “came after” August and September 2011, when the former sheriff was busy obstructing justice, Fox observed dryly.

As for the good deed doing Hochman had listed? “That was his job. He was paid to do those things.”
Moreover, Baca might feel empathetic toward the homeless and the mentally ill, but “the rights of the mentally ill were being violated” regularly under Mr. Baca’s reign, Fox said. Even now, he added, the department has a federal monitor who keeps an eye on whether conditions for the mentally ill are adequately improving.

His was a “shameful era,”Fox said with a gaze toward Baca, who sat at the defense table in his blue pinstriped suit, his spine ramrod straight.

As for Hochman’s assertions that Baca wasn’t responsible for brutality in the jails, that this was more Paul Tanaka’s doing, Fox reminded those in the courtroom of Baca’s now infamous declaration made in a meeting in September 2011, with then U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and other federal officials:

“I’m the goddamn sheriff! And these are my goddamn jails!”

Baca “abused the power that was entrusted to him. He threw the people whose careers were entrusted to him under the bus. The county has paid millions of dollars for actions made under Mr. Baca’s reign,” Fox said.

“If you take away Alzheimer’s” Fox explained, the government would recommend a much different sentence than the 24 months they were proposing.

The sentencing guidelines for Baca’s offenses suggested 41 to 51 months in prison, and could go up to 60 months. And the probation report suggested the full 60 months, Fox noted.

Still, given the circumstances, Fox said, 24 months was the “right balance.

But, the prosecutor added, if the judge planned to go too far below the guidelines, the government hoped that the court would slap Baca with a hefty fine.

“He has substantial assets, plus substantial money from his government pension,” Fox added.

(The former sheriff will get approximately $328,000 annually in pension payments.)


No Get Out of Jail Card

Of course, with the three-year sentence, Anderson went substantially above the 2-years prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Jauregui had recommended.

“Alzheimer’s disease is not a get out of jail card,” Anderson said shortly before he announced the sentence itself.

If not for Baca’s “cognitive impairment,” said the judge, and if not for his career in public service, “you would have received the same [five year] sentence as Mr. Tanaka.”

Baca was “at least as culpable as Tanaka,” Anderson repeated. “His actions” would not have occurred “without you.”

Anderson told Baca that “a custodial sentence”—meaning prison—“is an important step in restoring the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system.”

It was also a “necessary deterrent to our public officials, and to law enforcement.

“Blind obedience to a corrupt culture has consequences.”


After the fall

Outside, on the courthouse steps, Acting United States attorney Sandra R. Brown told the waiting cameras that, “Rather than fulfill his sworn duty to uphold the law and protect the public, Lee Baca made a decision to protect what he viewed as his empire, and then he took actions in an effort to simply protect himself.”

A few minutes later still, Baca came out and addressed the crowd and the cameras that, by the end of the day, would make his sentencing a national story. Unlike when he was in court, the former sheriff had affixed his favorite lapel pin to his suit. This was the quarter-sized sheriff’s star pin that Anderson had ruled Baca could not wear during his second trial, after the prosecution contended that it was prejudicial. Baca liked the U.S. Marines pin he’d worn during sentencing and off and on during the trial, but he preferred this one.

After thanking his wife, Carol, and his attorneys, Nathan Hochman and Brianna Abrams, Baca launched into an upbeat, if somewhat whimsical monologue.

He’d been ‘a blessed person,” he said—not “just because I’ve been in the sheriff’s department…But I’m certainly blessed to be a human being who loves people unconditionally. I’ve taken a lot of hits over the years,” Baca continued. “There’s no police chief in America who hasn’t taken hits, because of freedom of speech. And I’m a protector of freedom of speech. You think that the media and I don’t like each other. But we do. It isn’t an easy job….”

Given what had just occurred in the courtroom, Baca seemed to be in a remarkably good mood. Maybe he had expected worse, such as the five-year sentence that Mr. Tanaka received. Or maybe he was just glad to have it over with—except for the appeals. Or maybe, with a sort of make lemonade attitude, he was hoping to regard the whole thing as a sort of Zen adventure, despite the difficulties that it could not help but bring.


Putting Down a Footprint

After Baca and his entourage headed homeward, attorney Miriam Krinsky—who is a former federal prosecutor and who now runs the nonprofit, Fair and Just Prosecution—said Anderson’s decision to go above the prosecution’s recommendation was not surprising.

“We are in a moment when community trust is very fragile, when some members of our community are living in fear of government,” she said. “Judge Anderson made clear that trust in government and trust in law enforcement matters. And judges have an independent, invaluable role in that dynamic.”

Krinsky paused. “I think we saw judge Anderson put a strong footprint down in terms of an independent judiciary,” she said finally.

“When our community is being threatened—whether that threat is from law enforcement or any other member of government—the judges have a role to play,” Krinsky concluded. “And Percy Anderson made his role crystal clear when he imposed that sentence of three years.”

Still, said Krinsky, “No one should be joyful at this outcome.” The sentencing may be just. But, “it’s not a happy ending to the story.’

36 Comments

  • Judge Anderson stated, “Mr. Baca knew what kind of person Tanaka was,” Anderson said. He was warned about Tanaka and warned about civil rights violations in the jails, and he failed to stop them. When talking about the Tanaka issue in particular, Anderson leaned forward to stare at Baca with the bird-of-prey posture he employs when he is most intent on making sure no one misses his point. “You were all too happy to let people like Mr. Tanaka do your dirty work for you.” But Paul Tanaka “was not some rogue deputy,” said Anderson sternly. “You knew exactly what kind of person you were promoting.”

    Judge, you nailed it. Baca exactly what kind of prick he was promoting over the years. So let me say to all you sons of bitches who carried Tanaka’s water, rolled his cigars, carried the coin, snitched on good people for the sake of personal gain, kissed his ass, wrote him emails to whisper information regarding your peers, supervisors or subordinates to garner favor, who shook down folks for unreported cash campaign donations, to all of you who engaged in the most unethical of activities to make the little man happy, well there is a special place in hell for you. As Tanaka rots in my new home state and Baca delays the inevitable, you pricks get to look in the mirror each morning. You might have received that “cool job,” or even a promotion or two, but you are personally and collectively responsible for the destruction of LASD and you know it. Baca? He is going to get his, in more ways than one.

    And he earned it. Yours is coming as well. And to the survivors, just do your time and retire with honor, dignity and LACERA, it’s a great life. Not much has changed but brass buckles.

  • It’s a pity that the community has to pay $328,000 annually in retirement benefits. Not only to him, but also to the other convicted criminals… The pensions should be taken away as punishment………. No wonder California is so screwed up financially

    • Lonestar,

      Look at this way, as a practical matter Nathan Hochman and his brother are going to be taking that pension away from Dr. Baca for a least a couple of years.

      He just underwent a debtor’s examination for a $100,000 civil judgment and a couple of other civil cases are still in the pipeline.

      It’s a pity that the public will be funding a good portion of that pension, but at least Baca will not be getting to spend much of it for the next couple of years.

  • “Hochman briefly described Lee Baca’s far less than sunny upbringing in East Los Angeles,…………….. and how, as a kid, he had “to care for a developmentally disabled” adult uncle with whom he shared a bedroom.”

    Is Hochman refering to Uncle “Willie” or is he talking about “Uncle” Sol Block?

  • Baca “abused the power that was entrusted to him. He threw the people whose careers were entrusted to him under the bus. The county has paid millions of dollars for actions made under Mr. Baca’s reign,” Fox said.

    What does Fox mean when he says that Baca “threw..careers…under the bus.”
    Its true that L.A. County has paid out millions$$$ for actions that occurred while Baca was in charge of LASD, but how does any of that amount relate to “throwing careers under the bus”?
    Whose career did Sheriff Baca throw under a bus, and who was driving the bus?

  • “But, the prosecutor added, if the judge planned to go too far below the guidelines, the government hoped that the court would slap Baca with a hefty fine.”

    ““He has substantial assets, plus substantial money from his government pension,” Fox added.”

    Is Mr. Fox alluding to the investment assets Lee Baca has built up over the years using a portion of his salary earned working at LASD?
    Is he talking about the Baca’s primary residence in San Marino?
    Or perhaps Fox is alluding to some other substantial assets?

    Is it possible that Baca or any other current/former LASD have substantial assets originating from laundered dope money?

    What does Tanaka know and how much sqawking has he done already to help pay the heating bill on his frosty Colorado winter-time prison cell?

  • “After thanking his wife, Carol, and his attorneys, Nathan Hochman and Brianna Abrams, Baca launched into an upbeat, if somewhat whimsical monologue.”

    Did Lee Baca omit giving recognition to Tinos Diamantotis,?
    Isn’t Diamantotis part of Baca’s legal team – not simply muscle in a suit sent from Chicago to “mind” Baca whenever he steps out in public??

    I have this suspicion, with no real evidence for support, that Lee Baca isn’t going to spend much time in custody at a federal penitentiary.
    Baca and his people have 2 months until his scheduled surrender to consider any alternatives – which might range from requiring hospitalization due to stroke all the way over to redomiciling in Paraguay.

    Whatever eventually happens, Baca should definitely make an acknowledgement of Tinos Diamantotis.

    Diamantotis has been a steady presence during these difficult times.
    Standing behind Lee Baca or at his side along with Nate Hochman, during trial and after sentencing.

    He has stood there for Baca before the trials and even before there was an indictment, for whatever reason – we don’t know.

    January 7, 2014 Sheriff Baca calls a news conference to announce his resignation.
    Standing directly behind the Sheriff and next to Helmold — there’s Diamantotis.

  • As fate would have it, I still marvel at the takedown of LASD. I mean really……only in cinema, does a criminal Lifer flip the script on the largest Sheriff’s Department in the free world. With the latest tactics techniques, weapons and personnel versus a inmate with a cell phone (minus a charger). This tops any fake reality show. Still shaking my head……..Damn!

  • Baca goes to prison, yet we are all left with the damage that was done. Buckles refuses to do a damn thing. He has continued to promote the coin holders, and all those that participated in “Pay to Play.” He speaks about the “Fire in the Belly” but we all know that is plain BS. In order to promote you either have to be so jacked up that the LA Times does a story about you, or you have to be one of the “chosen few” that has been hand picked from those that Tanaka left behind to do his duty work. Yes, I too have heard of at least two other candidates getting ready to announce a run for Sheriff. I say this to all the hard working line deputies. D0 the minimum amount of work, handle your calls, protect those that need protecting, but above all protect each other and watch each other’s back. Buckles and his henchmen are looking to hang anybody they can. To the two getting ready to announce, please do so soon so we can get behind you.

      • I hope you’re kidding on that one. There are three in the mix so far, and I’ve not heard of that sick joke being one of them. As an original cast member of the corrupt OIR, she would be dead at the start line. Of the other three, however, there is also one dead at the start line, another original cast member of the Banaka crowd. The other two are legit, we’ll have to wait and see.

        • She’s been on the job for less than two years, and lookit where she’s at:

          1. The talk of the town

          2. In the table of LASD’s organization, completely out of the Chain-of-Command.

          3. Power to initiate investigations & fire.

          The CPA position is brand new; where did it come from?

          Was it imposed on LASD?

          A lawyer for Sheriff?

          Peter J. Pitchess graduated from Law School, but he never passed a Bar Exam.

          A Lawyer for Sheriff might be just the thing.

          • Interesting. The track record for attorneys as ranking sworn members is not that good, unfortunately. Case in point Eric Parra.

  • @LATBG, “ Oh, what a tangled web we weave…. when first practice to deceive” Dropping in late but I had to comment regarding some of the lies LATBG has been stating about the BPOA. LATBG said Johnson “is the president of the BPOA” and he got promoted to Region One division aide even though he wasn’t in the division. Johnson isn’t the president of the BPOA (he hasn’t been in over 10 years) and he was the ops LT at (wait for it) Altadena (a region one station) when he was promoted. Johnson was promoted by Neal Tyler to be his aide. Everybody knows Neal was no fan of Tanaka and probably didn’t even know the BPOA existed.

    The reality is the Sheriff, Undersheriff, Chiefs, and Commanders have been promoting their aides since the beginning of time, love it or hate it that is the system we have, but leave it to LATBG to blame it on them coloreds err I mean blacks eerr I mean the BPOA.

    LATBG continues at nauseam to complain about how much power and influence the BPOA has regarding promotions. Let’s see how much power they really have. The BPOA is so powerful that over the past two and half years:

    They managed to get 12 people promoted to Lt……. out of 109

    The BPOA is so powerful they managed to get 6 people promoted to captain…… out of 47

    The BPOA is so powerful that during the last captain promotions of 14 they got a whole 0 promoted to captain

    The BPOA is so powerful they managed to get 1 person promoted to commander……. out of 22

    The BPOA is so powerful they managed to get 1 person promoted to chief …….out of 7 (that actually took 3 years).

    I know the above numbers are probably too high for LATBG, but the reality is blacks would have the same chance of promoting if they picked names out of a hat.

    The more I think about it……I am wrong about one thing……. The BPOA is responsible for getting a lot of people promoted to sergeant and lieutenant. Whites and Hispanics that is. Over the years, the BPOA consistently holds promotional seminars. The seminars have been open to everyone (not just BPOA members) and they have been attended overwhelming by Whites and Hispanics. Routinely 60+ people attend the seminars and less than 15 are black. They do charge non-members though. They make them bring cans of food so they can be given to the homeless and less fortunate………… how dare they those racist commies.

    LATBG has told other lies and unsubstantiated claims in the past about the BPOA, but his BS about the BPOA’s power and influence was getting ridiculous.

    • As I previously stated, I called BPOA a social club. No offense but those are my thoughts. I do agree with @Bull that BPOA had no power or influence. I personally thought BPOA was/is over rated. Only saying that because I that was there. BPOA had zilch to do with going 10-8.

    • @ Return of Bull Conner ???

      Very informative, straight with no chaser.

      It would be interesting to have a response which actually refutes or challenges your post.

    • @ Return of Bull Conner ??

      Very informative, straight with no chaser.

      It would be interesting to have a response which actually refutes or challenges your post.

      • Return of Bull Conner, sorry for catching your thread so late, but I have to admire your creative editing. Maybe you can explain how BPOA’s favorite son, Roosevelt Johnson, became the chief’s aide for Sammy Jones in custody division? Think there were more qualified candidates from within custody division, or did they just not count? Perhaps you can explain how the undersheriff decided that there was no need to investigate the misdeeds of your fearless captain engaging in a 10-30 pursuit and subsequent cover-up? It would be quite entertaining to have an IA interview on that matter for all parties involved. Often the cover-up is worse than the original crime, but Brady issues don’t matter for the anointed few I guess.

        You’re really boring me with your stats, and only prove to demonstrate the obvious: there is no lack of representation of blacks at any rank. There is no excuse for the department engaging in quotas for any gender, race or ethnicity. Not only are they illegal, they serve to discriminate against the individuals who could earn their promotions and transfers through their own merit.

        I don’t bother keeping up with the ins and outs of BPOA practices, but the actions of Ronnie Williams et al sullied the reputation of that organization. The fact that they chose to remain silent amidst the stench of corruption speaks volumes about their past leadership – oh wait, that included your hero, Johnson. If the BPOA actually engaged in charitable work that would be a good thing, and hopefully for the right reasons.

        I yield no quarter to corruption, and if that unsettles you, perhaps you need to rethink your perspective.

  • Bull:. Just to clarify…,are you saying in the last two and a half years….there were 47 promotions to Captain….and six of those went to African Americans……that is a very large turnover in such a short period of time. Plz clarify…. Thnx

  • If accurate….it would seem six promotions to Captain would be representative of African Americans on the Department. Also….we have to consider all the other special groups vying for promotion: Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Females,…..Eastern Europeans…..etc. The pie gets smaller every day. .

  • Yes those are very accurate numbers beginning from May 2015 to present. I only deal with facts not the lies and unsubstantiated claims from others.

    I did make a mistake regarding chiefs. One black was demoted during that 3 year period so the net gain was actually 0.

    Love that influence the BPOA has…….

    • In that case, let’s not forget Muslims, Native Americans and one those who are Biracial, oops…..I mean “Multi Cultural”.

  • Hey LATBG, is the BPOA responsible for the Biracial deps too? If so that might add one more to the Lt count lol. I’m sure they are to you. You seem like a guy that believes in the 3% blood rule…..

    Now it’s time for you to repeat repeat repeat your whining about test and Ronnie Williams. I have provable facts about that too, but I’ll save them for ya.

  • You can cheer on whomever you chose, I chose to condemn those who damaged the organization for their own personal gain.

  • I just read the PPOA Star & Shield “Morale” issue, and I don’t know which is worse – Fresh Eyes telling PPOA to pound sand or Moriguchi getting on all fours? The morale of the department is intimately connected to who the sheriff is and everything he’s done in office. Quit beating around the bush, PPOA! You blew it when you decided to conceal the survey results A YEAR AGO, and now you insult the membership even further by talking about a survey you don’t have the decency to reveal to the very membership that paid for it.

    My guess is the membership wants a new sheriff and Moriguchi wants a promotion, hmmm, what to do, eh Brian?

  • LATBG: The only hope we have is electing a new Sheriff who can restore our Department and it’s historical traditions. It appears every Executive who leaves LAPD for greener pastures just l attempts to clone LAPD. We all know how happy the troops are over there….sad to say…..I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

  • The position of Sheriff of Los Angeles County has actual appeal to very few, even under the best of circumstances.
    Under the currently strained circumstances, the number of potentially qualified applicants dwindles significantly.
    Once a realistic admission is made of the sacrifices required to run – the number willing to take the leap is hovering around zero.
    Sheriff McDonnell is a sure bet for reelection if no qualified challenger steps in to the ring.
    That challenger needs to emerge in the next 30 days to contend.
    The window for saviors is quickly closing – names announced after that represent only convenient placeholders down the ballot.

  • Sheriff McDonnell is beatable, but what person of sound mind would voluntarily assume the personal risks which befall any serious contender to unseat the current sheriff(unless that person has already been selected by the powers that be as their designated successor to the position.)
    Which would definitely happen if McDonnell felt like taking retirement soon.

    Bottom line – no qualified candidate exists who is:
    a. willing to accept the severe risks of engaging in open battle for election as Sheriff in 2018
    b. willing to participate in the kind of unsavory and undignified tactics which will be necessary to gain victory.

    To beat McDonnell, you must overthrow him.
    The field must be napalmed and carpet-bombed(metaphorically).
    His credibility must be decimated, his character must be shredded.

    That requires zealous researchers who begin with his birth and keep digging until they reach today, vacuuming up batches of detail and footnotes.
    Those batches are sifted for unsavory nuggets to unveil, expose, hurl at his front windshield.

    Everything becomes fair game.
    Patrolman Officer James McDonnell’s 1986 LAPD Medal of Valor
    for evacuating 30 people from a burning building.

    Did he save anyone or just evacuate them?

    This is Patrolman McD on the megaphone – you must evacuate the building, follow the direction of my voice to safety.

    Its only been 30 years, let’s find 2 0r 3 of the 30 McD evacuated to provide context and depth to the deed. Or to poke out the hollow core.

    To begin the process requires two candidates employing a calculated strategy.
    One candidate wields the flame-thrower and grenades to attack and weaken the current Sheriff.
    This spares the other candidate from all the ash and splatter, so that voters are not repulsed from placing their goodwill and hope in that person.

    Of course, a candidate must first survive if they hope to accede.
    If they come from LASD, they must either have retired or they must take leave of absence.

    They still must assemble a solid cadre of devoted defenders working around the clock, because the deep insiders at LASD have already gone in too deep.

    There is no more room for surrender, only the fight to survive.
    If forced to the wall, then its a fight to the death.

    McD himself threw down the gauntlet and drew a line of blood in the sand.

    If they can do it to sgt. Owens, they will do it to anyone.

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