TANAKA INDICTED IN JAIL SCANDAL: Gardena mayor pleads not guilty to charges of blocking FBI probe as former undersheriff

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After a four-year investigation into the corruption and abuse of inmates in the L.A. County jails by members of the Sheriffs Department, two ranking officials were indicted for their alleged role in thwarting a federal investigation.

After a four-year investigation into the corruption and abuse of inmates in the L.A. County jails by members of the Sheriffs Department, two ranking officials were indicted for their alleged role in thwarting a federal investigation.

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is the current mayor of Gardena, and former department captain, William “Tom” Carey, are charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to hide an inmate who was cooperating with FBI investigators. At the time, Tanaka was the second highest-ranking member of Sheriffs Department, and charged with the day-to-day operations of the jail.

The indictments of Tanaka, 56, and Carey were unsealed May 14 in downtown Los Angeles, and charged both men with ordering deputies to carry out a plot to subvert a federal investigation into the abuse imposed on prisoners by Sheriff members. The L.A. County Sheriffs Department oversees the national’s largest jail system.

Last year several deputies serving under Tanaka were convicted of interfering with the FBI probe and were sentenced to prison terms.

Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said, ”Tanaka had a large role in institutionalizing the illegal activities in the Sheriff’s Department.

“This new case illustrates the fact that the leaders who foster and hide the corrupt culture of their organization will be help responsible, just like their subordinates,” Yonekura said.

Tanaka has denied any wrong doing and his attorney H. Dean Steward said that his client would “aggressively defend” himself in court.”

 “At all times, Mr. Tanaka dedicated himself to serving the residents of Los Angeles County honorably, ethically and legally,” Steward said, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “After all the facts come to light, we are confident he will be exonerated of any wrongdoing.”

At this time, the prosecution has not leveled any charges against now-retired Sheriff Lee Baca. Baca who was first elected in December 1998. He was reelected for his fourth term in 2010, one year before the prison abuse scandal came to light.

Baca was also not called as a witness to any of the earlier trials.

Tanaka is expected to ask the Gardena City Council for a leave of absence, as he works through his indictment. The Council will likely vote on the matter at the May 26 Council Meeting.

An elected official said that Tanaka would need at least a 3-1 vote to get a leave. A 2-2 vote among Mayor Pro Tem Terrence Terauchi and council members Dan Medina, Tasha Cerda and newcomer, Mark Henderson, would be the equivalent of a nay vote.

“ He hasn’t made any enemies (within Gardena’s political ranks),” the official said. “ So he should get the leave.”

Gardena City Manager Mitch Lansdell said that the indictment was for his Sheriffs duties, which has nothing to do with Tanaka’s job performance as an election officials.”

Tanaka was hired by the El Segundo Police Department in 1980, then transferred to the L.A. County Sheriffs two years later. He worked his way up the chain of command to Captain in 1999, and undersheriff in 2011. He left the department in 2013, amid controversy in his role during the jail-abuse scandal.

Although he announced that he was retiring from the sheriffs department in early 2013, effective in August of that year, Baca told Tanaka to step down because he had become a political liability, it was reported.

Tanaka then announced his candidacy for the top sheriff position in Aug. 15, 2013, hoping to unseat his former boss, Baca, at the polls. Before the 2014 elections, Baca chose to retire instead of retaining his seat.

But Tanaka was defeated at the polls last fall by Jim McDonnell, the chief of police for the city of Long Beach.

As his professional career was ascending, Tanaka jumped into the political arena by winning a Gardena City Council seat in 1999. He was elected Mayor in 2005 and is currently in the middle of his third and last term.

Tanaka has prided himself as being mayor and a large part of Gardena city’s financial turnaround in the new millennium. He guided the city to moving out of the red, and raising Gardena’s bond rating and helping create a multi-million dollar reserve.

Despite the sheriffs corruption turmoil Tanaka faced in the 2011, he sought to remain Gardena’s mayor and won reelection to his third term in March 2013.

Gardena city attorney Peter Wallin told the Times that Tanaka’s indictment in his professional life would not require stepping down to down as mayor.