Former LA county sheriff indicted for cover-up in abuse probe

Los Angeles (AFP) - A former Los Angeles county sheriff has been indicted on charges that could result in a 20-year prison sentence for his role in obstructing a probe into abuses at the county jail.

A federal grand jury indicted Lee Baca, 74, on federal charges "alleging that he conspired to obstruct justice, obstructed justice, and lied to the federal government," read a statement Friday from the US Department of Justice.

The case against Baca (sheriff 1998-2014) is one of several cases "resulting from an investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jail facilities in downtown Los Angeles."

As a result, "20 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department were convicted of federal charges."

Baca, who is in the early stages of Alzheimers disease, had reached a plea deal in which he would admit to one charge -- lying to the FBI -- and be sentenced to six months in prison.

A federal judge however rejected the deal, saying it was insufficient punishment.

Baca on Monday withdrew his guilty plea so he could defend himself in court rather than risk going to prison for up to five years -- but instead on Friday was indicted on more charges.

The case against Baca focuses on covering up beatings of jail inmates by sheriff deputies.

In one case sheriff deputies discovered that a prisoner named Anthony Brown was an FBI informant -- so they registered him under false names and moved him several times so that federal agents would lose track of him.

Sheriff deputies even went the home of an FBI agent and threatened to arrest him.

In June Baca's main deputy, Paul Tanaka, was sentenced to five years prison for his role in the scheme.

Baca, who led the largest US municipal police force for 16 years, retired in 2014 as the FBI probe was picking up steam.