LOS ANGELES – A federal judge refused today to grant immunity for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca so he could testify without invoking the Fifth Amendment in an obstruction of justice case against the department’s retired second-in- command.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson also denied a defense motion to dismiss the case against Paul Tanaka, who is charged with one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, and granted a delay in the start of trial from Nov. 3 until March 22.
H. Dean Steward, attorney for the former undersheriff, argued in court papers that Baca should be free to testify for the defense without fear of self- incrimination since it was allegedly the sheriff who “set into motion” the events that resulted in the charges against his client.
Steward said outside court that it remains to be seen if he will call Baca to the stand without the grant of immunity.
The attorney said he had still not interviewed Baca — who recently hired new attorneys — about the case.
Prosecutors contend that Tanaka oversaw a secret plan in 2011 to “hide” inmate-turned-informant Anthony Brown from FBI handlers during a time when federal officials were conducting a probe of alleged deputy violence against prisoners.
Brown was booked and re-booked under a series of false names, and was eventually told he had been abandoned by the FBI.
Eight former sheriff’s department officials — including a captain, two lieutenants and two sergeants — have been convicted for their roles in the cover-up.
All claimed they had been following orders from superiors in assisting a legitimate investigation into how and why a cellphone had been smuggled into the Men’s Central Jail.
Tanaka and retired captain Tom Carey, who headed an internal investigations unit, were charged in May with the alleged attempt to derail the federal jails probe.
Carey pleaded guilty last month to a charge of lying on the witness stand during last year’s trial of former Deputy James Sexton, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for trying to obstruct the jails investigation.
In exchange for his plea and cooperation, Carey — the highest-ranking official to be convicted in the ongoing jail probe — can expect to receive a reduced prison sentence of not more than 16 months, according to his plea agreement.
However, the maximum possible penalty when he goes before Anderson for sentencing on Jan. 25 is five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Tanaka — who is on leave as mayor of Gardena — retired from the sheriff’s department in August 2013.
The charges against Tanaka and Carey brought to 22 the number of current or former sheriff’s officials charged in an ongoing federal probe into corruption and civil rights violations by guards at two downtown jail facilities.
Previous related story: Sheriff’s deputy pleads guilty to lying to FBI