A retired high-ranking Los Angeles County sheriff’s official told a jury Thursday that ex-Sheriff Lee Baca “absolutely” knew in advance that his deputies were planning to approach an FBI agent in front of her home in an attempt to intimidate her into giving up information about a jail abuse investigation she was running.
The testimony of former Capt. Tom Carey — who is awaiting sentencing for lying under oath in a related trial — contradicts Baca’s taped statements to federal prosecutors in April 2013, when he was questioned under oath about whether he played any role in illicit attempts to interfere with an FBI investigation into allegations of corruption and inmate abuse by jail guards.
In that hours-long interview, which forms the basis for a false statements count Baca is fighting in his retrial, the ex-sheriff told prosecutors that he had no advance knowledge of the Sept. 26, 2011, visit to FBI agent Leah Marx’s home until her then-boss, Steve Martinez, called to ask about the illegal encounter.
Carey, though, testified that in a closed-door meeting before the agent was approached, Baca advised deputies “not to put handcuffs on her.”
A month after sheriff’s deputies discovered that the FBI was running an undercover jails probe, two sheriff’s officials confronted Marx outside her home, falsely telling her that they were in the process of swearing out a warrant for her arrest.
After the videotape of the encounter was played for the jury, a federal prosecutor asked Carey whether Baca had been briefed in advance of the operation.
“Absolutely,” Carey responded. “Everything we did — pitting two agencies against each other — we made executive notification … so nothing would come back on us.”
Asked what Baca may have been thinking when he allegedly gave approval for the action, Carey said it was simple reprisal.
“You went to the home of our deputies, we can go to the home of your agent,” Carey said, summarizing what he believed to be Baca’s mindset at the time.
In a February 2016 plea agreement which Baca subsequently rescinded, the retired sheriff admitted knowing in advance that Marx would be approached. Jurors in the current trial will not hear of the now-defunct false statements plea.
Jurors also watched a 2011 interview with Baca in a television appearance on “Good Day, L.A.,” in which he accused the FBI of illegally smuggling a phone into the jail.
The discovery of the cell phone — smuggled by a corrupt jail guard to an inmate who was working as an FBI informant — led to the realization by sheriff’s officials that a federal jails probe was taking place under their noses.
“The truth is, the sheriff runs the jail,” Baca told the Fox 11 interviewer. “We police ourselves.”
Carey is expected to return to the stand Friday for cross-examination by Baca’s attorney.
Baca, 74, is being tried in downtown Los Angeles on counts of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to the FBI.
The retired lawman faced trial in December on the first two counts and prosecutors planned a second trial on the lying count to take place later. However, a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson agreed to combine all three counts in the retrial that began last week.
The charges focus on the period after guards in August 2011 at Men’s Central Jail stumbled upon the FBI’s secret probe of alleged civil rights abuses and unjustified beatings of inmates within jail walls.
After sheriff’s deputies discovered that inmate Anthony Brown was an FBI informant, they booked the felon under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators. They also went to Marx’s home and threatened her with arrest.
Baca — who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for 16 years — claims he knew nothing of the plan to thwart the jails probe and that his top deputy, Paul Tanaka, was in charge of the operation.
Carey and eight other former deputies have been convicted in the case. Tanaka, who alleges that Baca initiated the plan, is serving a five-year prison sentence.
Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.
–City News Service