LOS ANGELES – The former second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday was granted a brief reprieve in the start of his five-year prison sentence.
Paul Tanaka was ordered to self-surrender to federal authorities on Oct. 7, rather than Monday. He was given the four-day reprieve by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson so he may complete work toward his appeal, which will eventually be heard by a federal appellate panel in Pasadena.
However, Anderson denied a defense motion to continue Tanaka’s bond further, indicating there is little likelihood the ex-undersheriff’s conviction will be reversed.
The judge noted that it took a jury less than three hours in April to convict Tanaka of felony charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.
Tanaka, 57, remained stone-faced and silent as his attorney argued that because such “highly prejudicial” evidence as the former lawman’s membership in a violent deputy gang known as the Lynwood Vikings was allowed, the appeal stands a good chance of succeeding.
Anderson responded that the small amount of Vikings testimony along with other evidence only revealed Tanaka’s inclination “to protect problem deputies who crossed the line.”
The judge also mentioned Tanaka’s “evasive demeanor, open hostility and combativeness” on the witness stand during the trial.
Anderson ordered Tanaka to present himself at the low-security federal prison camp in Englewood, Colorado, by 3 p.m. Oct. 7 or at the U.S. Marshals Service office in downtown Los Angeles.
Tanaka was the ninth sheriff’s official convicted of criminal conduct based on the circumstances surrounding the hiding of inmate-informer Anthony Brown, a scheme that also involved witness tampering and the threatened arrest of an FBI special agent assigned to the jails investigation. His 60-month prison sentence is the longest stretch of any defendant in the Brown case.
Seven former sheriff’s lieutenants, sergeants and deputies convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice received prison sentences ranging from 18 to 41 months. Their appeal was denied by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Tanaka directed co-conspirators in a scheme to derail the 2011 investigation into allegations of excessive force within the jail system.
Tanaka maintained that his then-boss, former Sheriff Lee Baca, was actually giving the orders and the undersheriff didn’t know what was taking place.
The case stemmed from events five years ago when a cellphone was discovered in the hands of an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff’s deputies quickly tied the phone to the FBI, which had been conducting a secret probe of brutality against inmates.
At that point, sheriff’s officials “closed ranks” — at the direction of Tanaka, prosecutors said — and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing inmate-informant Brown from federal prosecutors, who had issued a writ for his grand jury appearance.
The charges included a host of “overt acts” — including witness tampering and threatening an FBI agent with arrest.
Defense attorneys contended that much of the prosecution testimony was motivated by jealousy, delivered by retired sheriff’s officials with grudges against Tanaka.
During two days of testimony, Tanaka denied remembering details of his communications with his now-convicted colleagues.
In their trial brief, government prosecutors maintained that Tanaka “fostered a culture that led to the significant problems in the Los Angeles County jails.”
Defense attorney H. Dean Steward countered that his client was actually “a fearless executive in the department who fought to weed out problem deputies, not encourage them. The only culture he fostered was excellence and he made daily efforts to accomplish it.”
Last year, Tanaka’s co-defendant, retired sheriff’s Capt. Tom Carey, pleaded guilty to lying on the witness stand during the 2014 trial of former Deputy James Sexton, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for trying to impede the jails investigation.
In exchange for his plea and cooperation, Carey, 58, can expect to receive a reduced prison sentence of not more than 16 months when he is sentenced in January, according to his plea deal.
As a result of his conviction, Tanaka was removed as mayor of Gardena, a post he held for 12 years.
Baca faces trial in December for allegedly conspiring to thwart the federal probe into deputy misconduct.
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