LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Paul Tanaka, the Los Angeles County Undersheriff and mayor of Gardena, was found guilty Wednesday of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for helping thwart a federal investigation of misconduct in county jails.
After just two days of deliberations, a federal jury found Tanaka guilty of directing eight alleged co-conspirators in a scheme to thwart a 2011 investigation into allegations of excessive force within the jail system. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 20.
“This was Paul Tanaka’s operation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox said in his closing argument. “He was the director, he was in charge.”
A defense attorney, however, argued that it was actually ex-sheriff Lee Baca who “was in control of this entire situation.”
The case stems from events five years ago, when a cell phone was discovered in the hands of an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff’s deputies quickly tied the phone to the FBI, which had been conducting a secret probe of brutality against inmates.
At that point, sheriff’s officials “closed ranks” — at the direction of Tanaka — and launched an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing the inmate-informant, Anthony Brown, from federal prosecutors, who had issued a writ for his grand jury appearance.
During two days of testimony, Tanaka, 57, denied remembering details of his communications with his alleged co-conspirators — all of whom have been convicted previously in the case.
Phone logs focusing on days in August and September of 2011 that were relevant to the case revealed about 70 calls between Tanaka and the alleged co-conspirators, but only one between Tanaka and his then-boss, Fox said.
Baca pleaded guilty in February to a charge of lying to investigators and is awaiting sentencing in May.
Tanaka faces up to 15 years in federal prison. In a news conference Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said she expects Tanaka to be sentenced to “considerable jail time.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the verdict signals the end of a troubling period within the department.
“I, along with the hard-working men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, respect the jury’s verdict and fully accept and recognize that the justice system holds all of us in public service accountable for our actions,” McDonnell said in a statement. “We look forward to closing this particularly troubling chapter in the Sheriff’s Department’s otherwise long history of providing essential public
services in a professional and caring manner.”
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