Ex-Sheriff Baca Convicted in Federal Corruption Retrial

March 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted Wednesday of three federal charges for orchestrating a scheme to thwart an FBI investigation into inmate mistreatment in the jails he ran and of lying to the bureau.

Jurors reached the verdict this afternoon, in their second full day of deliberations in Baca’s retrial. The eight-man, four-woman jury got the case Monday afternoon after hearing nine days of testimony involving more than a dozen witnesses.

Baca was convicted of all three counts with which he was charged — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to the FBI — and faces up to 20 years in federal prison, according to prosecutors.

The 74-year-old retired lawman was tried in December on the first two counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the lying count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and the judge combined all three counts in the retrial, which
began Feb. 22 with jury selection.

Sheriff Baca @ Cops4Causes Press Conf.

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff, Lee Baca, faces up to 20 years in federal prison after being convicted, Wednesday. EGP Archive Photo.

The charges partly stemmed from a 2011 incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted an FBI agent in the driveway leading into her apartment and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest. Baca denied having advance knowledge of the illegal attempt to intimidate the agent.

Nine former sheriff’s officials, including Baca’s top deputy, Paul Tanaka, have been convicted in the case.

In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox used a chess analogy, calling Baca “a king” who used his subordinates as chess pieces in a tit-for-tat between the Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.

“The pawns and bishops go out to attack and do all the dirty work” Fox said, adding that Baca was now “trying to disown everything that happened.”

Nathan Hochman, Baca’s lawyer, countered that there was no chess game.

“This wasn’t even a checkers game,” he said.

Hochman repeatedly pinned blame for the obstruction on Tanaka, who has already been convicted and is serving five years in federal prison.

Hochman insisted Baca did nothing to subvert the probe, but he actually “wanted to join the federal investigation.”

However, a second prosecutor insisted Baca was not only guilty, but was especially culpable given his decades of experience in law enforcement.

“That experience is damning — not a positive — when you talk about committing these crimes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes told the jury as she summed up the government’s case.

Rhodes walked the jury through a timeline of the prosecution’s case, saying Baca orchestrated a conspiracy to derail the FBI probe into mistreatment of inmates at jails managed by the sheriff’s department, then lied to federal investigators about his involvement.

Baca “ran this conspiracy the same way he ran this department,” Rhodes said, telling jurors the ex-sheriff appointed Tanaka to oversee the scheme.

At the same time, “the sheriff was having multiple briefings because he wanted to know every little thing that was going on,” the prosecutor said.

Baca ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years before he retired in 2014 amid allegations of widespread abuse of inmates’ civil rights.

The defense contends that the ex-sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and suffered some cognitive impairment as long as six years ago. However, the judge barred Hochman from presenting medical testimony during the retrial.

Ex Subjefe del Alguacil de Los Ángeles Condenado a Cinco Años en Prisión

June 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

El ex subjefe del departamento del alguacil del condado de Los Ángeles fue condenado el lunes a cinco años en prisión por liderar una conspiración de múltiples facetas para obstruir una investigación federal de mala conducta en las cárceles.

Paul Tanaka, 57, quien fuera el segundo al mando después del alguacil Lee Baca, también fue ordenado por el juez del distrito de EE.UU. Percy Anderson a servir dos años de libertad bajo supervisión después de prisión y pagar una multa de $7,500.

El juez fijó el primero de agosto para que Tanaka se entregue y comience a cumplir su condena.

Durante toda la audiencia de una hora Tanaka estuvo sin moverse y sin reacción alguna en una sala de audiencias repleta, negándosele una oportunidad para hablar con el juez.

En la sentencia de Tanaka, Anderson contó de nuevo su carrera en el departamento del alguacil, su papel en el esquema de obstruir la justicia, y “el daño incalculable que ha causado a esta comunidad”.

Mientras que él era el subjefe a cargo de las cárceles, Tanaka “perpetró un entorno de conducta excesiva de oficiales”, según Anderson, quien dijo que las acciones de Tanaka condujeron directamente a un mayor número de incidentes de uso de fuerza contra los reclusos en las cárceles.

La obstrucción del sistema de justicia fue diseñada “para descarrilar la investigación del gran jurado federal” y constituyó a “un grave abuso de la confianza del público”, dijo el juez.

Tanaka fue encontrado culpable en abril de cargos por delitos de conspiración para obstruir a la justicia y por obstrucción de la justicia.

Un sindicato de autoridades de la ley dijo en respuesta a la sentencia de Tanaka que la “era de corrupción” dentro de la oficina del alguacil de 18.000 personas—la mayor de la nación—había llegado a su fin.

La era de corrupción que caracterizó a la alta dirección en el departamento del alguacil del condado de Los Ángeles terminó con la condena del ex subjefe Paul Tanaka”, dijo George Hofstetter, presidente de la Asociación de Alguaciles de Los Ángeles (ALADS). “El departamento puede avanzar ahora que la verdad sobre el fracasado liderazgo del deshonrado ex alguacil Lee Baca y el subjefe Paul Tanaka se ha revelado a través del proceso de justicia”.

“La era Baca-Tanaka creó fallos de liderazgo que dejaron al departamento del alguacil y a miembros de ALADS con cicatrices reales derivadas del aumento de agresiones a oficiales y cicatrices emocionales de la disminución de la moral mientras oficiales se esforzaban por realizar un trabajo peligroso bajo una nube que no habían crearon”, dijo Hofstetter. “Con la sentencia de [el lunes], el departamento se deshace de la cultura que creó la corrupción. Los hombres y mujeres que sirven con orgullo como alguaciles permanecerán centrados en restaurar la confianza del público que hemos jurado servir”.

ALADS representa a más de 8.200 oficiales del alguacil e investigadores del fiscal de distrito que trabajan en el condado de Los Ángeles.

Como resultado de su condena, Tanaka ha sido eliminado como alcalde de Gardena, puesto que mantuvo durante 12 años.

El abogado de la Ciudad de Gardena Peter Wallin le dijo a KPCC que el Ayuntamiento nombrará a un nuevo alcalde o llamará para una elección especial dentro de 60 días.

Tanaka Faces Five Year Prison Sentence

June 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison term for the former second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who was dubbed the “ringleader” of a multi-faceted conspiracy to thwart a federal probe of misconduct in the jails, according to court papers obtained Tuesday.

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, 57, was convicted in April of felony charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson scheduled sentencing for June 27.

“After several trials and tens of convictions of Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, one thing is abundantly clear: defendant Paul Tanaka is responsible not only for obstructing justice, but also for fostering the culture that led to the significant problems in the Los Angeles County jails,” federal prosecutors wrote in pre-sentencing papers filed with the court.

“While defendant claimed at his and three previous trials that he had only limited involvement in the conspiracy, the evidence showed instead that he was the ringleader from the beginning,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox wrote.

Tanaka’s attorney, Jerome Haig, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The defense sentencing position has not yet been made public.

Tanaka, who remains the mayor of Gardena despite the conviction, faces a maximum of 15 years in federal prison. Although prosecutors are seeking five years’ imprisonment, the ultimate decision is up to the judge.

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.

Former Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty to a federal charge of lying to investigators during the probe. Anderson has set a July 11 hearing, at which time he will either accept or reject a plea agreement that calls for a sentence ranging from probation to six months behind bars.

Another deputy, Gilbert Michel, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and has admitted that he abused inmates while working as a guard at the Men’s Central Jail. His sentencing hearing is set for Monday.

If Tanaka is sentenced to 60 months in federal prison, it would be the longest stretch of any co-conspirator 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 is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena on July 5.

The jury deciding Tanaka’s case deliberated for less than three hours over two days before reaching a decision.

Haig previously said he will appeal, calling the verdict “only another step in the process.”

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.

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 – 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 allegations of witness tampering and attempting to threaten an FBI case agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys, however, argued 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.

George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, called Tanaka’s conviction the end of “the era of corruption” in the department’s upper management.

“The department can move forward now that the truth about the failed leadership of disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has been revealed through the judicial process,” Hofstetter said. “The Baca-Tanaka era created leadership failures that left the sheriff’s department and ALADS members with real scars from rising assaults on deputies, and emotional
scars from diminished morale as deputies struggled to perform a dangerous and difficult job under a cloud they didn’t create.”

Tanaka Convicted in Sheriff’s Dept. Corruption Case

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The former second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was convicted Wednesday of obstructing a federal probe of misconduct in the county jails.

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, 57, was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson scheduled sentencing for June 20.

Tanaka, who is the mayor of Gardena, faces up to 15 years in federal prison. U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker declined to say how much prison time she would push for, but said she hoped it would be “considerable.”

Decker said jurors have “spoken loudly, they’ve spoken swiftly,” adding that Tanaka and other top leadership at the department contributed to a culture of lawlessness.

“It was an issue of leadership,” Decker said. “This could have been stopped at any time.”

The panel deliberated for less than three hours over two days before reaching the verdict.

Tanaka declined to comment as he left the courthouse. Defense attorney Jerome Haig said he will appeal.

“The verdict is only another step in the process,” Haig said. “We plan on appealing the eventual sentence in this case, and we’re hopeful that a court of appeals will view the evidence in a way more favorable to Mr. Tanaka.”

Federal prosecutors said Tanaka directed eight co-conspirators in a scheme to thwart a 2011 investigation into allegations of excessive force within the jail system.

“This was Paul Tanaka’s operation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the jury during his closing argument. “He was the director, he was in charge.”

Painting the defendant as a man of “many faces,” Fox said Tanaka worked to “overrule and undermine” the goals of the sheriff’s department, acting as the “authority everyone was operating under to engage in this conspiracy.”

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 – and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing the inmate-informant, Anthony Brown, from federal prosecutors, who had issued a writ for his grand jury appearance, prosecutors said.

The charges included a host of “overt acts” – including witness tampering and threatening an FBI case agent with arrest.

EGP photo archive

EGP photo archive

A defense attorney, however, argued that much of the prosecution testimony was motivated by jealousy, delivered by retired sheriff’s deputies with personal grudges against Tanaka.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is not a crime to be a strong leader,” defense attorney H. Dean Steward said in his summation. “Paul Tanaka was a pro-active, strong leader. He ruffled some feathers. He’s had some people that don’t like his leadership style and don’t like him. But that’s not a crime.”

Steward told the jury that ex-sheriff Lee Baca – Tanaka’s boss at the time – “was in control of this entire situation.”

The attorney said it was Baca who demanded that his underlings “make sure that Anthony Brown stay in the jail system,” rather than transfer to state prison, where he was headed in August 2011.

“Baca was the driving force here, with Paul Tanaka trying to help out with bits and pieces” of information, Steward told the panel.

“Baca is pushing everybody – and I mean everybody,” the attorney said, suggesting that if his client believed that the sheriff’s orders were “reasonable and lawful,” then there was no criminal intent on Tanaka’s part.

Without intent, Steward said, “you’re not guilty.”

But in his rebuttal, Fox countered that Baca’s role “has nothing to do with the guilt of Paul Tanaka.”

Baca, the prosecutor continued, “made Paul Tanaka the director of this sad movie.” The defendant chose the players, “wrote the script” and “made sure his presence was felt,” Fox said.

During two days of testimony, Tanaka repeatedly said he could not recall details of his communications with his co-conspirators – all of whom have been convicted. But he was firm on one point – he was acting at the behest of Baca.

However, phone logs focusing on days in August and September of 2011 that were relevant to the case revealed about 70 calls between Tanaka and the alleged co-conspirators, but only one between Tanaka and his then-boss, Fox said.

Baca pleaded guilty in February to a charge of lying to investigators and is awaiting sentencing in May.

George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, called Tanaka’s conviction the end of “the era of corruption” in the department’s upper management.

“The department can move forward now that the truth about the failed leadership of disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has been revealed through the judicial process,” Hofstetter said. “The Baca-Tanaka era created leadership failures that left the sheriff’s department and ALADS members with real scars from rising assaults on deputies, and emotional scars from diminished morale as deputies struggled to perform a dangerous and difficult job under a cloud they didn’t create.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the verdict signals the end of a troubling period within the department.

“I, along with the hard-working men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, respect the jury’s verdict and fully accept and recognize that the justice system holds all of us in public service accountable for our actions,” McDonnell said.

“We look forward to closing this particularly troubling chapter in the Sheriff’s Department’s otherwise long history of providing essential public services in a professional and caring manner,” he said.

“Upon taking office, I made it clear that I expect every member of the department to be held to the highest ethical and professional standards. As we move forward as an organization, we are committed to earning the public’s trust every day by providing the highest quality of service with integrity, respect, and accountability.”

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