Ex-undersheriff Tanaka found guilty

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Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los County Sheriff’s Department, was convicted April 6 of conspiracy and obstruction of justice to an FBI investigation of inmate abuse and corruption. The federal jury deliberated for a mere two hours before handing down their verdict.

Tanaka, 57, who has also served as Gardena mayor since 2005, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of obstruction of justice. He will be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on June 20, and could face a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.

Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los County Sheriff’s Department, was convicted April 6 of conspiracy and obstruction of justice to an FBI investigation of inmate abuse and corruption. The federal jury deliberated for a mere two hours before handing down their verdict.

Tanaka, 57, who has also served as Gardena mayor since 2005, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of obstruction of justice. He will be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on June 20, and could face a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.

Tanaka rose through the sheriff ranks, becoming Sheriff Lee Baca’s second-in-command, and running the department’s day-to-day operation. He was considered a tough, no-nonsense leader who commanded both respect and fear from his underlings, as reported by the media.

Following the announcement of the verdict, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said the jury sent a very clear message that “corruption within law enforcement would not be tolerated, particularly when it comes from the very top of those organizations.”

Decker also said that inmates are entitled to civil rights and that those rights need to be protected.

She credited reformers within the Sheriff’s Department, who suffered for speaking out about the corruption and abuses taking place by jail deputies, the media reported last week.

Tanaka is the 10th sheriff official to be convicted or to have pleaded guilty of obstructing a federal investigation of civil right violations in the county jails, the Daily Breeze reported.

Testifying in his own defense during the 10-day trial, Tanaka told jurors that he did not remember many details regarding the case. His attorneys said their client was merely following orders from Baca, and that the Sheriff was the orchestrator of the scandal to impede the federal investigation into corruption.

In February, Baca pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators during interviews. His sentencomg will come in May.

George Hofstetter, who serves as president of the union that represents rank-and-file deputies, said in a statement that Tanaka’s conviction (he was indicted last May would allow the sheriff department to move ahead now that the “failed leadership” was prosecuted.

“With this verdict, the department is rid of the culture that created the corruption,” Hofstetter said, and the Times reported.

The case centered around the Men’s Central Jail where an FBI informant had access to a smuggled phone, which was sued to call the FBI’s civil rights division office. The prosecutors said that when Tanaka and other sheriff officials learned about the informant, deputies moved the inmate to evade the FBI, tampered with witnesses by telling deputies not to cooperate with federal investigators and threated to arrest an FBI agent.

An alternate juror on the Tanaka trial told the media that the former undersheriff did not come across as credible in his testimony, a view apparently shared by other jurors which accounted for such a swift verdict.

Tanaka’s lawyers admitted disappointment in the trial outcome, but maintain their belief in his innocence.

Jerome Haig, one of Tanaka’s attorneys, said that all sides would have liked and benefited from Baca’s testimony.

But Baca was granted immunity from testifying. The judge also denied that statements Baca gave to investigators would not be allowed into evidence.

The Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox called two dozen witnesses to testify against Tanaka.

One witness, former Deputy Mickey Manzo, told jurors that while Baca gave the orders, that all aspects of the FBI investigation had to “run through Mr. Tanaka.” Manzo was convicted as a co-conspirator in the case.

In 2014, Judge Anderson sentenced seven sheriff officials to federal prison terms ranging from 18 months to 3 ½ year terms. That same year, Tanaka ran for Sheriff and contested event winner Jim McDonnell in the November run-off election. McDonnell, then the chief of police for the city of Long Beach, won the election handily.

Tanaka was indicted last spring, and was to go to trial last November. The case was postponed to earlier this year.

Tanaka’s attorneys said they would appeal his conviction.

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