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A man who aided three inmates in a daring Orange County jail breakout early last year pleaded guilty Thursday and was immediately sentenced to a year in jail.

Loc Ba Nguyen, 51, also will be placed on five years of formal probation as part of the plea deal crafted by Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Fitzgerald.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Cindy Nichols objected to the plea deal.

“I thought it was a state prison case,” Nichols told City News Service.

Nguyen pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling a weapon into jail and two counts each of sending an article useful for escape into jail and aiding a jail escape, all felonies. He also admitted a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a deadly weapon.

Nguyen is scheduled to self-surrender to serve his sentence on Sept. 29, which will allow him to get his construction business prepared to continue while he is incarcerated, according to defense attorney Ed Welbourn. He said his client has the option of applying for home confinement or paying for a cell in one of the jails run by area cities.

Nichols said Nguyen played a key role in the jail breakout, which led a grand jury to produce a report faulting Orange County sheriff’s deputies on multiple levels, including improper inmate counts and lax patrolling of possible escape routes, and to criticize the Board of Supervisors for failing to fund requests for improved video cameras to update a system full of blind spots in the antiquated Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana.

After visiting Bac Tien Duong, 44, Hossein Nayeri, 38, and Jonathan Tieu, 21, in jail on Jan. 9, 2016, Nguyen was given a list of items they needed for the breakout, Nichols said. He initially left a backpack with rope, a knife and clothes attached to a rope at the jail, and later left a duffel bag with more clothes, two wire cutters and two cell phones near the jail, the prosecutor said.

Nguyen, who knew Duong, also dropped off cell phones and a knife at various locations near the jail for the men to pick up when they escaped on Jan. 22, 2016, Nichols said, and picked up the escapees and drove them to a residence near the jail.

Sheriff’s officials said the escapees sawed through a steel grate, half-inch steel bars and made their way through plumbing tunnels before getting to an unsecured part of the jail’s roof, where they used ropes to rappel several floors to freedom.

After Nguyen dropped them off, Duong called a cab and they were picked up in Westminster and directed the driver to take them to a Target department store in Westminster and then another in Rosemead. The three then robbed the victim of his cell phone and keys, ordered him into the backseat, took his wallet and then used his driver’s license to rent motel rooms, according to prosecutors.

Duong allegedly stole a van from a man he met through a Craigslist ad and the three traveled north in the van to San Jose, where Duong split with the other two on Jan. 29 and returned to Orange County with the cab driver.

A transient spotted the white van on Jan. 30 in San Francisco, which led to the arrests of Nayeri and Tieu.

Nguyen, who is a real estate developer in addition to owning a construction business, had employed Duong off and on over the years for various tasks, Welbourn said.

He said his client had no criminal record and described him as a family man who is active in his community via charities.

“He’s donated lots of time to the community,” Welbourn said. “He’s never been in trouble. He’s just a really nice guy, actually.”

Nguyen could have faced up to seven years in prison if convicted at trial. If he violates probation, he could face seven more years behind bars.

“He’s going to have to go to jail, which is ironic since he helped people escape from the jail,” Welbourn said.

Nguyen got “caught up in a situation… and he didn’t necessarily know how to handle it and he made all the wrong decisions,” the defense attorney said. “But he acknowledges what he did was wrong and he wants to do his best to remedy this and continue to involve himself in the community and do the things he loves to do, which is help out other people.”

–City News Service

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