A defense attorney Friday used audiotape of ex-Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca’s voice to try and show a jury the retired lawman had no detailed knowledge of an illegal conspiracy to impede a federal probe of abuse allegations in the county jails.

Former Los Angeles Councy Sheriff Lee Baca. Photo via officer.com
Although Baca has yet to take the stand in his retrial — and never testified in the first proceedings last year — his voice echoed through the courtroom where he is facing counts of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to the FBI.

Baca’s comments were taken from a nearly four-hour interview given to federal prosecutors in April 2013 when he was questioned under oath about whether he authorized or played any role in illicit attempts to interfere with the FBI investigation during a six-week period in August and September of 2011.

In that interview, which forms the basis for the false statements count Baca is fighting in his retrial, the ex-sheriff denied having advance knowledge of the illegal Sept. 26, 2011 visit to FBI agent Leah Marx’s home by two sheriff’s investigators who confronted her and falsely threatened her with impending arrest in connection with her attempts to investigate the jail.

“If I had been told (in advance) … I would’ve said don’t do that,” Baca is heard saying on tape. “I have no knowledge of our deputies trying to arrest an FBI agent.”

Baca claimed he had been left unaware of the “investigative particulars” of his subordinates’ actions until Marx’s then-boss, Steve Martinez, called to ask about the illegal encounter.

It was unclear if defense attorney Nathan Hochman’s use of the audiotape made an impression on the eight-man, four-woman jury in downtown Los Angeles.

The panel heard from two witnesses who contradicted Baca’s statements.

For a second day, former Capt. Tom Carey — who himself is awaiting sentencing for lying under oath in a related trial — testified that he attended a closed-door meeting with Baca and other department brass in which the then-sheriff was told about plans to confront Marx in front of her home.

Carey told jurors that Baca had advised deputies “not to put handcuffs on her.”

Also called to the witness stand was a former Los Angeles Times reporter who broke the story of how sheriff’s officials responded to the discovery that the FBI was conducting a secret probe into abusive deputies.

Robert Faturechi, who covered the sheriff’s department for the Times for several years before taking a job elsewhere, testified under subpoena that in an interview with Baca, the then-sheriff said that he had sent a pair of investigators to the FBI agent’s home in order to question her about the investigation.

Faturechi told jurors — just as he had in Baca’s first trial — that the lawman told him “he did know” of the plan to question Marx in advance of the encounter.

Hochman declined to cross-examine the reporter.

Prosecutors told the judge that they would probably wrap up their presentation Monday. Hochman’s defense case is expected to follow.

Baca, 74, faced trial in December on the two obstruction counts and prosecutors planned an eventual second trial on the lying count. 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 with jury selection on Feb. 22.

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.

Baca’s second trial is different than the first as a result of several pretrial rulings by the judge.

Anderson barred Hochman from putting on evidence of “prior good works” related to Baca’s years as leader of the sheriff’s department, ruling that such evidence does not directly pertain to the charges for which he is being tried.

The judge also ruled that jurors will not be allowed to hear medical testimony that Baca has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for years, calling such proposed testimony a “waste of time.” Baca’s attorneys contend the ex-sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and suffered some cognitive impairment as long as six years ago.

— City News Service

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