By Daina Beth Solomon
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Six current or former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies who were convicted of conspiring to thwart an FBI probe into prisoner abuse and other misconduct inside the largest U.S. jail system were sentenced on Tuesday to prison terms of up to 41 months.
The sentences mark the latest blow to a sheriff's department that has been beset with allegations of civil rights violations and corruption as well as a federal investigation of its jails. Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca retired earlier this year rather than seek reelection.
"In their corrupt attempt to shield the Sheriff’s Department from scrutiny, these deputies brought scandal and shame to themselves and their department," acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said in a written statement.
"These deputies decided to impede a federal investigation, and in doing so they threw away their careers and their freedom," Yonekura said.
In imposing the sentences, which ranged from 21 months to 41 months in prison, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said that the deputies lacked the courage to do the right thing and demonstrated "blind obedience to a corrupt culture."
According to evidence put on by prosecutors during trial, after learning in the summer of 2011 that an inmate was an FBI informant, the deputies hid him within the Los Angeles County jail system.
They also tried to influence witnesses not to cooperate with the federal investigation, according to prosecutors, and sought a court order that would force the FBI to turn over information about its investigation.
Two of the deputies later attempted to intimidate a federal agent at her home and falsely told her they were seeking an arrest warrant, according to evidence produced at trial.
Anderson said the tactics were intended to “scare and intimidate” the FBI investigators, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Among the deputies sentenced on Tuesday were two high-ranking lieutenants, one who had worked in the jail's internal investigations bureau and one from an anti-gang intelligence unit.
The sheriff's department is responsible for managing the Los Angeles County jail system, which houses some 18,000 inmates, the largest number of any county jail system in the nation.
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech)