‘Friends of the Sheriff’ program moved candidates to front of line

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L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca (AP Photo)

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca maintained a special hiring program that granted preferential treatment to the friends and relatives of department officials, including some candidates who were given jobs despite having troubled histories, it was reported today.

The Los Angeles Times based its report on interviews and internal employment records that it reviewed.

The program, known as “Friends of the Sheriff,” has been in existence for at least eight years. Some high-ranking sheriff’s officials injected themselves into the vetting process to lobby for favored job candidates, records show.

Among those hired was a man convicted of sexual battery, according to court records cited by The Times. His friend and contact with the department was Baca’s driver. Another hired under the program was arrested last week on a federal weapons charge in connection with the FBI’s corruption investigation in the sheriff’s jails. His tie to the agency was his brother, a deputy, The Times reported.

Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, became a deputy through the program in 2007, even after sheriff’s investigators noted he had allegedly been involved in theft and a fight with San Diego police and had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported earlier this year.

Bravo, who did not respond to a request for comment, is now the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that he abused an inmate.

Sheriff’s officials have repeatedly denied that their friends, relatives and associates were shown favoritism in the hiring process. The department’s watchdog, who examined the little-known hiring track in 2009, found no evidence that applicants “routinely received preferential treatment.”

When presented with The Times’ findings last week about the department’s hiring of well-connected recruits, Baca’s spokesman acknowledged that applicants were given advantages over others competing for jobs.

“They’re moved to the front of the line,” spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “They do get fast-tracked … because they’ve got a tradition and history with the department.” But he insisted the applicants were held to the same hiring standards as other recruits.

A day after Whitmore’s comments, sheriff’s officials told The Times the special hiring program was being eliminated and a policy was being drafted to prohibit top brass from lobbying lower-level background investigators on behalf of job applicants.

“The sheriff doesn’t believe it’s appropriate anymore,” Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers, whose duties include overseeing personnel, told The Times.

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