Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of lying to investigators as part of a misconduct probe that zeroed in on the county jail.
The plea deal calls for him to spend no more than six months in prison. He will be sentenced May 16.
Baca announced in January 2014 that he would step down as the county's top law enforcement officer and not seek a fifth term.
The announcement came weeks after the U.S. Attorney's office said it had charged 18 current and former deputies assigned to county jail in a misconduct investigation. The allegations included unjustified beatings and detentions of inmates.
Baca, who ran the department for more than 15 years, has said previously that he wasn't aware of abuses at the jail or efforts by underlings to stifle the FBI probe by hiding an inmate informant.
U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker announced the plea deal at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
"No one is above the law," she said. "This is a fundamental principle in our society and when it is violated it's the job of the Department of Justice to step in and hold individuals accountable."
In a statement, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff's said Baca deserves punishment.
"The plea agreement sends a strong message that no one is above the law," the statement read. "There must be zero tolerance for this type of failed leadership. This by no means undermines the dedication and hard work of the more than 9,000 deputy sheriffs who put their lives on the line protecting L.A. County residents. With this admission of guilt, the environment that created this type of corruption is out of the department and we begin a new day of restoring confidence and trust."
Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the unfolding of the federal investigation and subsequent criminal charges have been trying for the department.
"But most important, I have learned through my personal experience with this proud organization that our deputies and professional staff remain focused and committed to moving forward by continuing to perform their essential public service in a professional and caring manner,'' McDonnell said.
With his guilty plea, Baca would be the 18th former member of the department convicted in the case, according to U.S attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek.
Baca avoided charges for years as prosecutors moved up the ranks to indict a number of officers and, eventually, his second-in-command.
In May, when former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and another high-ranking member of the department were charged with obstructing justice, prosecutors declined to comment on whether Baca was under investigation.
Tanaka is facing trial, but his co-defendant, former Capt. Tom Carey, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in related court proceedings. It's not clear if that included providing grand jury testimony against Baca.
Members of the department have been convicted of federal crimes, including 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.
Deputies tried to hide an FBI jail informant from his handlers for two weeks in 2011 by shifting him from cell to cell at various jails under different names and altering jail computer records. The FBI wanted the informant to testify to a grand jury.
Tanaka retired from the department in 2013 and ran unsuccessfully to replace his former boss, losing by a wide margin to McDonnell.