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Paul Tanaka accuses Sheriff Baca of stopping narcotics investigation

Paul Tanaka is accusing Sheriff Lee Baca of stopping a narcotics investigation targeting one of the sheriff's top aides.
November 15, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Did Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca put a stop to a narcotics investigation targeting one of his top aides? That's the explosive allegation from a former high-ranking official within the department, who is also one of Baca's political opponents.

It's the latest reaction to the story we broke on Eyewitness News this week about Bishop Edward Turner, a South Los Angeles pastor who receives a six-figure salary from the sheriff's department, and who's been relieved of duty in the wake of our investigation.

Now, a man who wants to succeed Baca is accusing the sheriff of a cover-up. Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka is running for sheriff.

"It was unacceptable then, and it's unacceptable now. The fact of the matter is, sir, law enforcement cannot play favorites," said Tanaka.

Tanaka is talking about the case involving Turner. Turner earns $105,000 a year, drives a county car, has a county cellphone and other perks. Since the year 2000, he's been the head of the Sheriff's Clergy Council, a liaison between the sheriff and local religious leaders.

Our investigation revealed that in 2005, sheriff's narcotics officers started an investigation of Turner, based on a delivery of $84,020 in cash to Turner's church on Manchester Avenue. In their incident report, the detectives wrote that based on their experience, the money "was a direct result of selling and distributing illegal narcotics."

Tanaka, who was an assistant sheriff at the time, said he got wind of the investigation as it was beginning. Although it was not his area of responsibility, he says he still took action.

"I do remember notifying my aide, and saying, 'It was obvious it's a law enforcement situation here, and it doesn't matter who's involved. But you need to make sure the narcotics bureau, the detectives, investigate this matter,'" said Tanaka.

Not long after, he says, he was told the investigation was over.

"I was just told shortly thereafter -- and I'm sorry, I can't give you a better timeline -- that the investigation had been squashed, basically, had been terminated, on orders of the sheriff," said Tanaka.

Tanaka says he doesn't remember who told him that.

Turner told us he was interviewed by investigators. The department found no wrongdoing on the part of Bishop Turner. No charges were ever filed.

Tanaka says a source he trusted was the one who told him Baca stopped the investigation.

"This is what I heard: He received a phone call from a sergeant who said, 'I am speaking for the sheriff. The investigation is done,'" said Tanaka.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the allegations are not true.

"Absolutely not true, unequivocally wrong, misstatement, disingenuous -- the sheriff does not stop investigations, he initiates them," said Whitmore.

Turner was relieved of duty earlier this week in the wake of our investigation, which revealed that he rents space to an illegal marijuana dispensary and that his charity has lost its tax exempt status. The department is conducting its own internal investigation and Whitmore says part of that is a re-examination of how that narcotics investigation was handled.

"Regrettably in the sheriff's department, people will invoke their boss' name to try to get something done their way. But let me be clear again, the sheriff did nothing to stop this investigation. If Mr. Tanaka thought something was amiss, he's a law enforcement officer, why didn't he do what he thought was right?," said Whitmore.

I asked Tanaka what he did when he found out this occurred in 2005.

He replied, "I didn't. That was it. I said what I was gonna say. Again, it was not within my authority at that particular time."

Tanaka admits he didn't take this as far as he could have while he was in the department. He told me the word among command staff is, "You don't go against the sheriff. If you challenge him on everything, you won't last long."

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