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Sheriff's watchdog will probe Baca's investigation at behest of supporter

January 14, 2011 |  4:59 pm

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca

The official watchdog for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will probe Sheriff Lee Baca’s decision to launch an investigation in another agency's jurisdiction on behalf of a well-connected fashion magnate, an official said Friday.

The Office of Independent Review’s announcement comes in response to a Times article showing that Baca opened an investigation in 2006 on behalf of Guess Inc. co-founder Georges Marciano, who donated $100,000 to sheriff’s charities during the probe.

The case was designated as a "special" and a sheriff’s detective said he devoted about 500 hours, more than for any other investigation. Eventually, the detective and prosecutors found no criminal wrongdoing.

Baca has the authority to launch investigations anywhere in the county, even in jurisdictions such as Beverly Hills, which has its own police force. But law enforcement experts say it's unusual to do so without being invited. In the Marciano case, Baca said the investigation was warranted because of the "magnitude" of the allegations by Marciano, who claimed that employees embezzled $1.4 million.

Baca said he did not discuss charitable donations or political contributions with Marciano, and that he was unaware of outside accounting audits showing no money was stolen. But Baca's critics said the case is another example of special access the sheriff has provided to donors and other influential individuals.

In October, a Times investigation detailed a similar case in which Baca launched a criminal probe inside another agency's jurisdiction on behalf of Ezat Delijani, a well-connected Beverly Hills businessman who had given the sheriff political contributions and expensive gifts.

In that case, a lease dispute was assigned "rush" status, generally reserved for homicides and other high-priority cases, and was labeled by sheriff's deputies as a "Sheriff Baca Special Request." The Beverly Hills Police Department had earlier concluded the case was a civil matter. Prosecutors initially declined to file charges after the sheriff's investigation, citing a lack of evidence. That decision was reversed after an appeal from the Sheriff's Department.

The Office of Independent Review also has been probing that case, after a request from Baca. Michael Gennaco, who heads up the office, said it was still unclear if his probe of the Marciano case would be combined with the Delijani inquiry, or done separately.

"It’s the same theme played in a different way," Gennaco said of the two cases. After the Delijani investigation was detailed by The Times in October, Gennaco said Baca had committed no violations in launching the probe.

Asked Friday if there were any potential violations in the Marciano case, Gennaco said he’d wait before judging. "I’m not even going to go there at this point," Gennaco said.

-- Robert Faturechi

Photo: L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca says the probe of Georges Marciano’s embezzlement allegations was justified by the “magnitude” of the allegations.

Credit: Brian van der Brug /Los Angeles Times