The effort by former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca and his underlings to derail an FBI investigation into beatings in the jails he ran was dubbed Operation Pandora’s Box.
Like the Greek myth the name was based on, it contained troubles the conspirators never anticipated when federal investigators uncovered the scheme and went after Baca and his associates for obstructing justice.
Baca was the final casualty when he was sentenced Friday to three years in federal prison by a judge who rebuked the longtime lawman for failing to live up to the lofty values he preached, bringing shame to his department and forever tarnishing his legacy.
U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, who exceeded a two-year term recommended by prosecutors, said Baca would have received five years behind bars if not for nearly a half-century of public service and because he’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The judge, however, took exception to a defense contention that Alzheimer’s is a sentence of its own.
“As awful as Alzheimer’s disease is, it’s not a criminal penalty,” said Anderson, who said the suggestion was an insult to millions of others suffering from the condition who have not committed federal crimes. “Alzheimer’s disease is not a get-out-of-jail card.”
Baca, 74, was the most prominent defendant in the case that expanded from a civil rights investigation of beatings by guards in the nation’s largest jail system into a broader corruption scandal that led to the top of the department. In addition to Baca and his top lieutenant, 19 others were convicted of crimes ranging from assaults to obstructing justice.
The sentence was a blow to Baca, who had been seeking probation and home confinement.
Baca, dressed in a light blue suit, delivered a scattered address from hand-written notes outside the courthouse after the sentencing in which he thanked the people of Los Angeles County, his lawyers and his wife standing by his side, who he couldn’t immediately locate.
He declined to comment on the sentence. But as he waited to cross a street, he said he was a man of faith who believes life is precious.
“I love life no matter where I am,” Baca said.
He was ordered to surrender to federal prison authorities July 25. He was convicted in March of obstructing justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to federal authorities.
Baca and others launched Operation Pandora’s Box after discovering a jail inmate with a contraband flip phone was acting as an FBI informant. The group conspired to hide the inmate by changing his name in computers, moving him among different facilities and threatening to arrest his FBI handler.
Furious about the investigation, Baca confronted the local FBI head and top federal prosecutor saying he was ready to “gun up” for battle with them.
“Rather than stop the abuses in the jails, he entered into a conspiracy with his subordinates to obstruct a federal civil rights investigation to protect his legacy,” acting U.S….