Crime & Justice

Feds indict former LA Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in LA jails scandal (update)

Paul Tanaka, seen here in a file photo as he prepared to testify in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence in 2012, was expected to be indicted Thursday, May 14, 2015, along with a former captain, for obstruction of justice, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Paul Tanaka, seen here in a file photo as he prepared to testify in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence in 2012, was expected to be indicted Thursday, May 14, 2015, along with a former captain, for obstruction of justice, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Bear Guerra/KPCC

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Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka — once one of the most powerful law enforcement officials in Los Angeles County — has been indicted on federal obstruction of justice charges in relation to an investigation into inmate abuse in county jails. Former Sheriff’s Capt. William “Tom” Carey, a Tanaka confidant, was also named in the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice. Both men surrendered to authorities earlier in the morning.

Updates

3:54 p.m.: Tanaka, Carey arraigned, plead not guilty

Paul Tanaka and retired sheriff's captain Tom Carey have entered not guilty pleas to charges of obstruction of justice after the two were arraigned in a downtown courthouse Thursday. 

"We will aggressively defend these baseless charges filed against [Tanaka] today in United States District Court," Tanaka's attorneys H. Dean Steward and Jerome J. Haig wrote in a statement released shortly after.

"At all times, Mr. Tanaka dedicated himself to serving the residents of Los Angeles County honorably, ethically, and legally," it read. "After all the facts come to light, we are confident he will be exonerated of any wrongdoing." 

3:33 p.m.: Gardena City Manager: Tanaka expected to take leave as mayor

Embattled ex-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka is expected to request a leave of absence as mayor of the city of Gardena, a representative for the city manager's office said Thursday. The official could not say whether Tanaka has officially submitted a request. 

1:36 p.m.: ACLU responds to indictment

Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Southern California branch, called the indictments of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and retired Capt. William Carey "a sad, but necessary reminder of the Sheriff's Department's history of condoning violence."

In a statement released Thursday, he continued:

"While it remains up to a court and a jury to determine Mr. Tanaka’s and Mr. Carey’s innocence or guilt, what is clear is that no one is above the law. Both men have done immeasurable harm to the department’s reputation and undermined public trust in the very agents who are supposed to serve and protect the public. As Chief Justice Earl Warren wisely noted, 'The police must obey the law while enforcing the law.' The indictments clearly indicate just how much work the Sheriff’s department has to do to rebuild public’s trust."

10:32 a.m.: Tanaka 'perpetuated a gang-like mentality'

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka played a key role in "institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the Sheriff's Department" that led to a conspiracy to obstruct an FBI investigation into inmate abuse in L.A. County, a U.S. attorney said Thursday.

"The scheme to obstruct justice rose to the executive level of the sheriffs department," acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said.

A grand jury on Wednesday indicted Tanaka, formerly the second highest-ranking officer in the Sheriff's Department, and former Capt. William "Tom" Carey, who headed  the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which oversees criminal investigations of L.A. County Sheriff's Department personnel. Both men turned themselves in early Thursday ahead of a news conference hosted by law enforcement officials.

The indictment alleges the two men oversaw a conspiracy to hide an FBI informant who was aiding an investigation into alleged inmate abuse by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department in county jails.

"I will never know what their actions prevented us from finding" at the jails, Yonekura said.

Among the allegations included in the indictment:

The indictment laid out a detailed picture of the lengths to which Tanaka, Carey and the other alleged conspirators went to prevent the FBI from talking to an inmate referred to as "AB," who they knew was working as an informant in the federal investigation into abuse at the jails. Among the actions allegedly taken by Tanaka and Carey:

Tanaka and Carey also allegedly launched an internal undercover operation, directing deputies to pose as inmates in order to find out how much AB had told the FBI.

"The minute they learned the FBI was investigating the sheriff's department, they got involved to obstruct justice," Yonekura said.

David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office, said the "cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution" and culture reflected in the allegations are the stuff "generally reserved for Hollywood scripts."

Tanaka "perpetuated a gang-like mentality among some in rank and file," Bowdich said.

Tanaka's attorney earlier called the allegations "baseless" and promised an aggressive defense. H. Dean Steward has been unresponsive to requests by KPCC to provide a full statement.

The indictments against Tanaka and Carey follow the convictions last year of seven other former sheriff's deputies who were linked to the cover-up conspiracy.

The indictments represent a classic FBI investigation, in which authorities go after lower-ranking officials first, getting them to cooperate before or after winning a conviction to see how high up the chain of command the corruption runs, according to Laurie Levenson, law professor and David W. Burcham Chair in Ethical Advocacy at Loyola Marymount University.

Tanaka was second in command under Sheriff Lee Baca while the investigation was under way. Yonekura would not comment on whether there were plans to indict Baca but said, "We will consider any evidence that comes to our attention."

Baca's attorney offered no comment.

Obstruction of justice charges are not necessarily easy charges to prosecute, especially when brought against someone so high-ranking, Levenson told KPCC's Take Two on Thursday.

Jurors often don't want to believe that an officer who has sworn an oath to uphold the law would be involved in such a scheme, Levenson said.

Tanaka and Carey are both scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. in a downtown L.A. courthouse.

— KPCC staff

9:40 a.m.: Justice Department unseals indictment

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Sheriff’s Capt. William "Tom" Carey  have been indicted on federal obstruction of justice charges in relation to an investigation into inmate abuse in Los Angeles County jails.

A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment on Wednesday against Tanaka and Carey, who allegedly oversaw and participated in a conspiracy to quash an investigation that started when the Sheriff's Department learned an inmate at Men's Central Jail was an FBI informant, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which unsealed the indictment Thursday morning.

The two men were named in one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and each are charged with a single count of obstruction of justice.

Carey is also charged with two counts of making false statements for perjuring himself during the trial last year of several co-conspirators, according to a statement from the Justice Department. That trial resulted in the conviction of seven other former sheriff's deputies.

Tanaka and Carey were "well aware of 'problem deputies' at the jails, 'allegations of rampant abuse of inmates,' and 'insufficient internal investigations' into deputy misconduct," according to the indictment. "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."

If convicted, Tanaka could face up to 15 years in prison. With the additional false declaration charges, Carey could face a maximum of 25 years.

Read the full indictment below.

— KPCC staff

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8:31 a.m.: 2 former Los Angeles sheriff's officials surrender to FBI 

Two former top officials of the nation's largest sheriff's department have surrendered to the FBI in a widespread misconduct investigation stemming from abuse within the Los Angeles County jail system.

U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek says former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Capt. William Carey turned themselves in early Thursday.

Both men are expected to be arraigned later in the day on charges related to the investigation.

Several sheriff's employees have been charged with federal crimes including beating inmates, obstructing justice, bribery and conspiracy.

Tanaka's attorney, H. Dean Steward, said Tanaka plans to "aggressively defend" himself in court. Lawyers for Carey could not immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI have set a joint 9 a.m. news conference to discuss the public corruption case.

— Associated Press

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7:33 a.m.: Tanaka surrenders to authorities

Former L.A. County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka surrendered to authorities Thursday morning ahead of an expected 9 a.m. announcement of his criminal indictment, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A source familiar with the investigation earlier confirmed to KPCC that Tanaka and a former sheriff's captain would face obstruction of justice charges stemming from their alleged role in attempting to thwart an FBI investigation into allegations of inmate abuse in L.A. County jails. 

Here's more from the Times:

The charges against Tanaka are “baseless” and he plans to “aggressively defend” himself in court, according to a statement by his attorney.

Capt. William “Tom” Carey also surrendered Thursday.

“At all times, Mr. Tanaka dedicated himself to serving the residents of Los Angeles County honorably, ethically and legally,” his attorney, H. Dean Steward, said in a statement. “After all the facts come to light, we are confident he will be exonerated of any wrongdoing.”

— KPCC staff

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7:03 a.m.: Feds indict former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in LA jails scandal

Federal prosecutors are expected to announce Thursday the criminal indictment of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka — once one of the most powerful law enforcement officials in Los Angeles County — according to a source familiar with the investigation. Former Sheriff’s Capt. William “Tom” Carey, a Tanaka confidant, is also expected to be indicted.

They’re expected to face obstruction of justice charges for their alleged role in attempting to thwart an FBI investigation into allegations of inmate abuse inside L.A. County jails. Tanaka and Carey are believed to have led an effort in 2011 to hide from the FBI a jail informant who was feeding federal agents information about jail beatings by sheriff’s deputies.

In the past, both have denied any role. They have said they were acting on orders from former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted. Baca abruptly resigned in January of 2014, following the indictment of 18 deputies on various civil rights and corruption charges.

Seven of those deputies were convicted in connection with the obstruction case. All have appealed.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles has scheduled a 9 a.m. news conference to discuss the indictments.

The federal investigation into the Sheriff’s Department is ongoing.

Tanaka, 56, retired in 2013 and ran for sheriff on a promise to clean up the department. He was defeated by a wide margin by then Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in November. Tanaka is the elected mayor of Gardena.

In 2012, an independent blue ribbon panel issued a scathing report on violence inside Los Angeles County jails. It said there has been a “persistent pattern of unreasonable force” by Sheriff’s deputies against inmates.

“Both Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff [Paul] Tanaka have, in different ways, enabled or failed to remediate overly aggressive deputy behavior,” the report said.

"The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored," the report stated.

The report, federal investigation, and various civil rights lawsuits have led to widespread reforms at the jails.

— Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Indictment

This story has been updated.