Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca directed detectives to launch a criminal investigation outside his agency's jurisdiction on behalf of a well-connected supporter who has given the sheriff political contributions and expensive gifts, a Times investigation has found.
The sheriff's investigation targeted a tenant who was embroiled in a rental dispute with Ezat Delijani, a longtime Baca political donor. The sheriff assigned his detectives to the case after Beverly Hills police had concluded that Delijani's allegations did not amount to a crime.
In an interview, Baca downplayed his personal involvement in opening the probe last year. He said the Beverly Hills business magnate received no preferential treatment.
Sheriff's Department records, however, show that Baca sent a handwritten note to his then-chief of detectives requesting the investigation. Additionally, records reveal that detectives referred to the case as a "Sheriff Baca Special Request" and gave it a "rush" status, generally reserved for high-priority or time-sensitive cases, including homicides.
According to records, the Beverly Hills Police Department had determined that Delijani's dispute was a civil matter and did not merit a criminal investigation. After sheriff's detectives concluded their four-month investigation, they submitted their findings to prosecutors, who declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence. Baca said the incursion into the Beverly Hills department's jurisdiction was necessary because the allegations of lease forgery were "too complicated" for the local police force.
Officials at the Beverly Hills Police Department, which handles hundreds of forgery cases every year, dismissed that explanation.
"I'm trying not to say anything that sounds inflammatory," said Beverly Hills Police Sgt. Shan Davis when told of Baca's comment about the case being too difficult for them. "That's not a fair characterization."
Law enforcement experts said it is highly unusual for one police agency to launch an investigation in another agency's jurisdiction without being invited in.
Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the case "smacks of the worst kind of special treatment."
"It's incumbent on the sheriff to explain why this case merited this kind of intensive resource allocation," said O'Donnell, a former New York City police officer. "Not only is it a terrible thing for public perception, it has a very devastating impact internally for the rank and file who swear an oath to protect people equally."
At the center of the sheriff's investigation was a 2008 dispute between Delijani and his tenant, a pharmacist named Afshin Nassir. According to records, Nassir requested that Delijani reimburse him for tenant improvements and for rent he had paid while those improvements were being made. Nassir alleged that he was entitled to payment according to his lease; Delijani claimed he wasn't.
After Delijani refused to reimburse Nassir, lawyers from both sides got involved — and Delijani alleged the lease that Nassir produced had been forged. Both parties sued.
During a deposition, Delijani said he took his complaint to the Sheriff's Department.
"Do you know the name of the person you spoke to?" asked an attorney for Nassir, according to a transcript.
"Sheriff Lee Baca," Delijani replied.
Delijani said he told Baca about the lease dispute during a meeting related to an award the businessman was receiving. Baca, he recalled, said "you must report such a crime. You must do it.'"
At some point, the Delijani family went to the Beverly Hills police with the tenant complaint. After officials there determined that the matter did not merit a criminal investigation, Delijani's son sent an e-mail to Baca's assistant.
"Hi Susie, Hope you're well," Delijani's son, Shahram, wrote. "Can you please let the Sheriff know that I spoke to … Beverly Hills Police Department and they informed me that they will not investigate the case. Thank you."
On a printout of that e-mail, a handwritten note from Baca urges action from Chief Willie Miller, who at the time oversaw the Sheriff Department's detectives division.
"Chief Miller -- This case involves a 'lease forgery.' Could you have our people investigate this," reads Baca's note, which is signed "Lee B."
Within days, officials from the department's commercial crimes bureau were on the case. The lead investigator's first log entry states the investigation's genesis: "This entry is being made to show that this case is a SPECIAL and was an investigation requested by Sheriff Baca."
Records show that when Baca ordered the investigation, a sheriff's sergeant acknowledged the case was outside the Sheriff Department's territory and contacted the Beverly Hills police "so as not to step on their jurisdiction."