A defense attorney attempted Tuesday to cast doubt on a timeline of email exchanges, meetings and phone calls to former Sheriff Lee Baca that prosecutors contend took place at significant times during an illegal scheme to obstruct justice that the retired lawman allegedly set in motion and closely monitored.
Nathan Hochman, Baca’s attorney, suggested to the Los Angeles federal jury that records of supposed communications between his client and various subordinates could not be trusted to prove his client guilty of conspiring in August 2011 to thwart a federal probe of the sheriff-run county jail system.
Prosecutors contend that a flurry of communications at crucial times in the case show Baca’s close involvement with a handful of sheriff’s officials who were subsequently convicted of obstruction of justice in the scheme.
During his cross-examination of Leah Marx, the lead FBI agent in the case, Hochman suggested that key events were missing from the timeline and that telephone records could not definitively prove whether any conversations actually took place — or between whom.
The frequency of messages to and from Baca and the way the calls corresponded to important events in the case prove that all roads “go back to one person,” Marx said, referring to the 74-year-old defendant.
But jurors on the 10th day of Baca’s retrial on federal corruption charges heard Hochman argue that, in some cases, questionable calls or calendar entries could have been mere coincidence.
Further, the defense lawyer told the jury, the timeline was riddled with errors.
“Sometimes the calendar will show that he (Baca) showed up at events that he may not have (actually attended),” Hochman said.
Marx had earlier explained to the panel the meaning of visual aids meant to illustrate that dozens of calls to Baca’s county-issued cell phone or that of his driver arrived immediately before or after significant case developments — such as the discovery that a contraband cell phone belonging to the FBI had been found in the jail, the arrival of a federal writ for an inmate-turned- informant, and the news that a former deputy confessed to beating up inmates.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the jury that such evidence conclusively illustrates Baca’s close participation in the conspiracy for which he is charged.
The trial will be dark Wednesday. Fox said he expects to rest his case Thursday after he calls two more witnesses to the stand. Hochman’s defense case will follow before the jury hears closing arguments.
Baca 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 was tried in December on the first two counts; prosecutors had planned a second trial on the lying count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial, which began Feb. 22 with jury selection.
The charges partly stem from a 2011 incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted Marx in the driveway leading into her apartment and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest. Baca denies having advance knowledge of the illegal attempt to intimidate the agent.
Nine former sheriff’s officials, including Baca’s top deputy, Paul Tanaka, have been convicted in the case.
If convicted of all charges, Baca faces more than 20 years in federal prison, according to prosecutors.
— City News Service