Former Number Two of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Charged with Obstructing Federal Investigation into Misconduct at County Jails
Paul Tanaka, 56, who was the second in command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and William Thomas Carey, 56, who oversaw internal criminal investigations at the LASD, have been indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly directing efforts to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations by sheriff’s deputies at two downtown jail complexes.
A federal grand jury yesterday returned a five-count indictment against Tanaka and Carey, who allegedly participated in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation, a scheme that started when the sheriff’s department learned that an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) was an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Tanaka and Carey allegedly directed, oversaw and participated in a conspiracy that last year resulted in the conviction of seven other former LASD deputies.
The obstruction of justice case was announced at a news conference this morning by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura for the Central District of California and Assistant Director in Charge David Bowdich for the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
Tanaka and Carey are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and each is named in one count of obstruction of justice. Carey is charged with two counts of making false declarations for perjuring himself last year during the trials of co-conspirators.
Tanaka was the undersheriff, the number two in the LASD, until 2013 and he ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff last year. Carey left LASD after reaching the rank of captain and heading the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.
Tanaka and Carey surrendered themselves to the FBI early this morning and the two men are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in U.S. District Court.
According to the indictment, the two defendants were well aware of “problem deputies” at the jails, “allegations of rampant abuse of inmates” and “insufficient internal investigations” into deputy misconduct. But against this backdrop, Tanaka allegedly told deputies assigned to the jails to work in a “gray area” and that he thought that the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau should be reduced from 45 investigators to just one.
The scheme to thwart the federal investigation allegedly started when deputies in August 2011 recovered a mobile phone from an inmate in MCJ, linked the phone to the FBI and determined that the inmate was an informant for the FBI who was cooperating in a federal corruption civil rights investigation. The phone was given to the inmate by a corrupt deputy, who subsequently pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges.
Alarmed by the federal investigation, members of the conspiracy, guided by Tanaka and Carey, took affirmative steps to hide the cooperator from the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, which was attempting to bring the inmate to testify before a federal grand jury in response to an order issued by a federal judge. The indictment alleges that as part of the conspiracy, the deputies altered records to make it appear that the cooperator had been released. They then re-booked the inmate under a different name, moved him to secure locations, prohibited FBI access to the informant and then told the cooperator that he had been abandoned by the FBI.
Over the course of several weeks, members of the conspiracy allegedly attempted to obtain an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to LASD. After the judge refused to issue such an order because he had no jurisdiction over the federal law enforcement agency and even though it was clear that the FBI was properly acting in the course of a lawful investigation, Tanaka and Carey met to discuss having two sergeants approach the lead FBI case agent. Soon thereafter, the sergeants confronted the agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her. The sergeants threatened the agent with arrest and later reiterated this threat to her supervisor, stating that the agent’s arrest was imminent.
“As the allegations demonstrate, Tanaka had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the sheriff’s department,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Yonekura. “This case also illustrates how leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture, will be held accountable, just like their subordinates.”
The indictment also alleges that Tanaka and Carey oversaw co-conspirators who told fellow deputies not to cooperate in the federal investigation. Members of the conspiracy allegedly engaged in witness tampering by telling fellow deputies that the FBI would lie, threaten, manipulate and blackmail them to obtain information about the sheriff’s department.
“The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts,” said Assistant Director in Charge Bowdich. “The public held the defendants to the highest standard, but, instead, they spent their time and energy setting a tone which minimized the value of their oath and dishonored the badge they wore.”
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The conspiracy count carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and the obstruction of justice charges carry a maximum penalty of ten years. The two false declaration counts against Carey each carry a potential penalty of five years.
As a result of this investigation, a total of 21 defendants who held various ranks in the LASD have been charged, including the deputy who took the bribe to smuggle the phone and seven co-conspirators in the scheme to obstruct justice (see, for example: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2014/161.html).
The investigation into corruption, civil rights abuses and obstruction of justice related to the Los Angeles County jails is being conducted by the FBI.