Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — Former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, according to court documents filed Monday.
The Alzheimer’s diagnosis was revealed less than a month before Baca’s sentencing in federal court for lying to authorities investigating corruption in the sheriff’s department.
The 74-year-old Baca, who commanded the largest sheriff’s department in the nation for 16 years before his abrupt retirement in 2014, also was known as a fitness buff who loved running.
The court filing that revealed Baca’s diagnosis, written by prosecutors, says the former sheriff’s cognitive impairment is mild for now but that “his long-term prognosis is bleak.”
They’re asking that Baca be sentenced to six months in prison, the maximum allowed under his plea agreement.
“The government does not view defendant’s current condition as having any effect on his decision to lie to the federal government,” according to their filing, which urged the judge in the case to consider the seriousness of Baca’s crime.
Baca signed a plea agreement in February that said he ordered deputies to intimidate an FBI agent investigating his department and “do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Baca later lied to federal prosecutors and the FBI that he wasn’t privy to discussions about trying to derail the investigation into beatings by guards at the jail.
Baca’s “lies show that corruption went all the way to the top of the sheriff’s department,” prosecutors wrote in Monday’s filing, saying Baca lied “either to avoid political fallout or to attempt to escape criminal liability.”
“Instead of acting as a leader, Baca distanced himself from the actions of his subordinates,” they wrote.
Baca’s attorney, Mike Zweiback, is arguing for a sentence of probation, saying prison would deteriorate his client’s condition faster.
“It’s wrong to incarcerate someone in this condition at any stage,” Zweiback said Monday.
“What he does now in terms of taking care of his health is extremely critical in terms of the future progression of this disease.”
Though Baca began consulting a doctor about memory issues in May 2014, his diagnosis wasn’t confirmed until earlier this year, Zweiback said.
Twenty-one members of the sheriff’s department have been convicted of federal crimes that include beating inmates, obstructing justice, bribery and conspiracy. The convictions stem from a grand jury investigation that began in 2010 into allegations of abuse and corruption at the downtown Men’s Central Jail.
Baca had said he was out of touch with what was going on and denied knowing about efforts to stifle the probe by hiding an inmate who was an FBI informant.