Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
Paul Tanaka, who was the second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and William Thomas Carey, who oversaw internal criminal investigations at the LASD, have been indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly directing efforts to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations by sheriff’s deputies at two downtown jail complexes.
A federal grand jury on May 13 returned a five-count indictment against Tanaka and Carey, who allegedly participated in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation, a scheme that started when the Sheriff’s Department learned that an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) was an FBI informant.
Tanaka and Carey allegedly directed, oversaw and participated in a conspiracy that last year resulted in the conviction of seven other former LASD deputies.
The obstruction of justice case was announced at a May 14 news conference by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura and FBI Assistant Director in Charge David Bowdich.
Tanaka and Carey, both 56, are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and each is named in one count of obstruction of justice. Carey is charged with two counts of making false declarations for perjuring himself last year during the trials of co-conspirators.
Tanaka was the undersheriff from 2011 to 2013 under then-Sheriff Lee Baca, and ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff last year, losing to the current sheriff, Jim McDonnell. Carey left the LASD after reaching the rank of captain and heading the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.
Tanaka and Carey, both wearing street clothes, surrendered themselves to the FBI on the morning of May 14, and the two men were arraigned on the indictment that afternoon in U.S. District Court. Both pleaded not guilty.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Victor Kenton ordered Tanaka released on a $50,000 property bond linked to Diamond Bar condominium he owns with his wife. Carey was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond.
Conditions of release included restricted travel, no contact with potential witnesses, and no access to law enforcement databases or weapons. A tentative July 7 hearing was set.
H. Dean Steward, one of Tanaka’s attorneys, said his client planned to “aggressively defend” himself against the “baseless” charges.
“After all the facts come to light, we are confident he will be exonerated of any wrongdoing,” Steward said.
Details of Indictment
According to the indictment, the two defendants were well aware of “problem deputies” at the jails, “allegations of rampant abuse of inmates,” and “insufficient internal investigations” into deputy misconduct. But against this backdrop, Tanaka allegedly told deputies assigned to the jails to work in a “gray area” and that he thought that the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau should be reduced from 45 investigators to just one.
The scheme to thwart the federal investigation allegedly started when deputies in August 2011 recovered a mobile phone from an inmate in MCJ, linked the phone to the FBI, and determined that the inmate was an informant for the FBI and was cooperating in a federal corruption civil rights investigation. The phone was given to the inmate by a corrupt deputy, who subsequently pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges.
Alarmed by the federal investigation, members of the conspiracy, guided by Tanaka and Carey, took affirmative steps to hide the cooperator from the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, which was attempting to bring the inmate to testify before a federal grand jury in response to an order issued by a federal judge.
The indictment alleges that as part of the conspiracy, the deputies altered records to make it appear that the cooperator had been released. They then re-booked the inmate under a different name, moved him to secure locations, prohibited FBI access to the informant, and then told the cooperator that he had been abandoned by the FBI.
Over the course of several weeks, members of the conspiracy allegedly sought an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to the LASD. After the judge refused to issue the order because he had no jurisdiction over the federal law enforcement agency, and even though it was clear that the FBI was properly acting in the course of a lawful investigation, Tanaka and Carey met to discuss having two sergeants approach the lead FBI case agent.
Soon thereafter, the sergeants confronted the agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her. The sergeants threatened the agent with arrest and later reiterated this threat to her supervisor, stating that the agent’s arrest was imminent.
“As the allegations demonstrate, Tanaka had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the Sheriff’s Department,” said Yonekura. “This case also illustrates how leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture will be held accountable, just like their subordinates.”
The indictment also alleges that Tanaka and Carey oversaw co-conspirators who told fellow deputies not to cooperate in the federal investigation. Members of the conspiracy allegedly engaged in witness tampering by telling fellow deputies that the FBI would lie, threaten, manipulate and blackmail them to obtain information about the Sheriff’s Department.
“The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts,” said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The public held the defendants to the highest standard, but, instead, they spent their time and energy setting a tone which minimized the value of their oath and dishonored the badge they wore.”
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The conspiracy count carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, and the obstruction of justice charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years. The two false declaration counts against Carey each carry a potential penalty of five years.
As a result of this investigation, a total of 21 defendants who held various ranks in the LASD have been charged, including the deputy who took the bribe to smuggle the phone and seven co-conspirators in the scheme to obstruct justice.
The investigation into corruption, civil rights abuses and obstruction of justice related to the Los Angeles County jails is being conducted by the FBI.
Record as Mayor
Tanaka, who is also mayor of Gardena, will take a leave of absence from his city position as he fights the charges.
Gardena City Manager Mitch Lansdell said in a statement on May 14, “Mr. Tanaka will ask the City Council for an excused leave of absence as he deals with these legal matters, and he hopes to remain on the elected panel to continue to fulfill his responsibilities to his fellow citizens as the case against him proceeds.
“Importantly, these charges arise from allegations that have absolutely nothing to do with his work on behalf of the City of Gardena. Both as a city councilman and mayor in a city he has called home for 50 years, Mr. Tanaka has been an effective elected official and a strong advocate for Gardena citizens — and we know he will continue to be.”
If convicted, Tanaka would have to leave his post, ending a political career that began with his election to the City Council in 1999.
Ongoing news about Tanaka being under investigation apparently had little impact on his popularity in Gardena, as he was easily elected to a third term as mayor in March 2013 without campaigning. He also had enough support countywide to finish ahead of five other candidates in last year’s election for sheriff, but in the runoff he lost by a wide margin.
“He’s probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with in the whole political realm,” Gardena City Councilmember Tasha Cerda told The Daily Breeze. “He does what he says. People in Gardena don’t just like him, they love him. He’s been in leadership management for a long time, and here in Gardena it shows very well.”
There has been a great deal of discussion about the indictment on a Facebook page called “You Know You’re Japanese American When … ” Some of the opinions expressed:
– “He’s been a good mayor of Gardena. If the stories about how he operated as undersheriff are true, though — well, what a shame.”
– “Honestly, we should support him until otherwise. That’s the problem with the Asian American community — we don’t have each other’s backs!”
– “I have to admit that I really did not like to hear his name mentioned in the news today. I felt a kind of shame. Hopefully, he is innocent.”
– “I pride myself with backing people by their honesty and morals. The color of their skin is invisible to me. He will have his day in court. I do hope he is innocent and doesn’t tarnish the badge and race.”
– “Sheriff Baca will be the one that was pulling the strings, and if your lead boss tells you to do something, you do it … ”
Professional Peace Officers Association President Brian Moriguchi, who has worked with Tanaka at the Sheriff’s Department, said that Tanaka’s ethnicity should not be a factor in deciding whether to support him.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people will place the race of a candidate above the character of that candidate. That’s a sad reality in our society,” he told The Rafu Shimpo, adding, “I don’t believe at all that he’s being targeted because he’s Japanese American.”
“Having been in the department for 30 years, I’ve seen a lot of things involving Paul Tanaka that I found questionable and unethical,” Moriguchi said. “So when I heard about this particular case, it really didn’t surprise me. But I would say he is entitled, like everybody is, to have his day in court to determine his guilt or innocence.”
Regarding Tanaka’s continuing popularity in Gardena, Moriguchi commented, “The people who are outside the Sheriff’s Department do not know what type of leader Paul Tanaka was, the style of leadership he employed as undersheriff … If they knew the truth, I don’t believe they would vote for him.”
Asked if the public lacks sympathy for victims of abuse in the jails because they are convicts, Moriguchi said, “I would hope not. The treatment of any human being should be appropriate.”
When some of Tanaka’s subordinates were prosecuted, many said that they were just following orders. Although he knows a number of the deputies, who are members of PPOA, Moriguchi said, “Following orders is not a defense. If what they did was a violation of law, they should be held accountable for it.”
There is speculation as to whether Tanaka’s former boss will also be indicted. “I believe that the U.S. attorney is looking at a lot of people that include Lee Baca,” Moriguchi said. “Whether they indict him will probably be a decision for the federal government to make if they feel they have enough evidence.”
Regarding the inmate who became an informant, Moriguchi said the FBI must share the blame for what happened: “I would say that this whole case stems from the federal government putting the lives of deputy sheriffs in danger by smuggling a cell phone in to a hardcore inmate in the jail … It deteriorated from there when the federal government refused to talk to the sheriff, Lee Baca, about what they were doing. From there I would describe it as a pissing match between two powerful law enforcement agencies …
“What absolutely isn’t being talked about is the fact that smuggling a cell phone into the jail puts the lives of officers at great risk … It allows an inmate to use a cell phone to plan escape … to tell somebody when a deputy is leaving a facility, to have him attacked, killed, kidnapped, whatever … There are so many things wrong with placing that cell phone in a jail … It disgusts me that a fellow police officer would smuggle a cell phone into the jail.”