Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was convicted on Wednesday by a federal jury of deliberately impeding an FBI investigation into inmate abuse and obstruction of justice at jail facilities.
Tanaka, who also serves as mayor of Gardena, faces up to 15 years in federal prison, when he is sentenced June 20, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The revered undersheriff rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. to become former Sheriff Lee Baca's second-in-command. Some say he was an overbearing leader who led with an iron hand.
The scandal that involved top-level Sheriff's Department officials and forced the resignation of Sheriff Baca, centered around allegations of abuse, civil rights violations of inmates and various cover-ups. Ten people have now been convicted or pleaded guilty for their roles in the plan. Last month, Baca admitted that he lied to federal investigators. Under a deal with prosecutors, he will avoid more serious charges and can serve no more than six months in prison.
Lower-ranking sheriff's officials convicted in the obstruction case have been sentenced to years in prison. They remain free while appealing their convictions.
Tanaka, who stood in his own defense, told jurors that Baca was responsible for coming up with the cover-up scheme in response to probes by the FBI. He claimed he was unaware of what was happening behind the scenes.
Despite Tanaka’s apparent willingness to cooperate with authorities, evidence was found that he directed department officials to transfer an inmate informant to another jail facility under a fake name to prevent the FBI from finding him. Prosecutors also alleged that Tanaka ordered sheriff’s sergeants to threaten the lead FBI agent on the investigation for having a cell phone smuggled to the informant as part of a sting operation.
The jury did not buy Tanaka’s version of the story. Jurors took less than 2 hours to return with a guilty verdict, saying there was overwhelming evidence that he was directly involved in the scandal.
Records of phone calls between Tanaka and Baca show frequent communication between them—not between Baca and lower-ranking sheriff's officials, as Tanaka claimed.