Feds Indict Ex-Undersheriff Tanaka for Obstruction of Justice

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are moving up the chain of command in their long-running probe of misconduct in the Sheriff’s Department.  An indictment has been filed against the former number two in the LASD, ex-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and a former Captain, Tom Carey.  The only person higher up than Tanaka is former Sheriff Lee Baca, who remains uncharged.

Tanaka and Carey face obstruction of justice charges for their roles in the 2013 “Operation Pandora’s Box” scandal that rocked the department.  Late last year, seven lower-ranking former sheriff’s deputies were convicted for their roles in an effort to thwart a FBI investigation into inmate abuse at the county jails by hiding an inmate-turned-FBI-informant from his federal handlers.

This is the first indictment brought against upper brass in the department.  Tanaka was second-in-command to then-Sheriff Lee Baca during the time FBI informant Anthony Brown was repeatedly moved under false names from jail to jail in an effort hide his whereabouts.

Tanaka testified as a defense witness in the three federal previous obstruction trials, telling jurors that orders to hide Brown came directly from Sheriff Baca.  Although this testimony may have been intended to absolve the lower-ranking deputies for “just following orders,” jurors evidently concluded that the defendants knew that they were acting to obstruct the FBI.

If Tanaka had hoped to ensure the loyalty of the former deputies by testifying for them, he apparently did not succeed.  According to press reports, several of the convicted deputies subsequently testified in front of the grand jury, presumably in hopes of a more lenient sentence.

Former Captain Carey was head of the LASD Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB) and the direct supervisor of three of the convicted sheriff’s deputies.  He coordinated the department’s response after deputies discovered a cell phone on inmate Anthony Brown that had been planted by the FBI to snare corrupt deputies at the jail.   Like Tanaka, Carey testified as a defense witness in the other officer’s trials, telling jurors that Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka believed a “rogue” FBI agent was responsible for smuggling in the phone and that he (Carey) was to conduct a criminal inquiry.  It is the conduct of officers during that investigation that make up the bulk of the obstruction charges.

So will Tanaka and Carey testify at their own trial?  My guess is yes.  Although the first instinct of defense attorneys is to keep clients off the stand, in this instance much of their prior testimony would be admitted anyway, through an exception to the hearsay rule.  The defense might as well put the defendants on the stand, knowing full well that any inconsistency between their trial testimony and former testimony will be the subject of cross-examination.

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