Tanaka fights back: 'I thought those orders were lawful'

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Former Los Angeles undersheriff Paul Tanaka took the stand Friday in his trial for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. (KABC)

Paul Tanaka was once on track to become the next Sheriff of Los Angeles County. Now, he's a defendant with one last shot at convincing a federal jury that he's not a criminal.

Tanaka took the witness stand Friday in the trial that will determine if he deserves to spend up to fifteen years in federal prison. The former second-in-command of the LASD, and current mayor of Gardena, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

"Did you ever issue orders that Anthony Brown should be hidden from the FBI?" asked defense attorney Jerome Haig.

"No," Tanaka replied.

"Did you ever issue orders that a federal grand jury subpoena for Anthony Brown should be ignored?" Haig asked.

"No," Tanaka said again.

"Are you aware of anyone else who issued orders to ignore a federal grand jury subpoena or hide Anthony Brown?" Haig asked.

"No," Tanaka replied.

And that is the crux of this case: Did Tanaka lead a conspiracy to hide jail inmate Anthony Brown after the LASD learned that Brown was an FBI informant, feeding information to the feds about alleged corruption and excessive force against inmates inside Men's Central Jail?

Brown's cover as an informant was blown when deputies discovered he'd been calling the FBI on contraband cell phone smuggled into the jail by a corrupt deputy as part of an FBI sting operation.

Tanaka told jurors Friday it was former Sheriff Leroy Baca who took "a very strong interest" in the investigation during that summer and fall of 2011. Tanaka says Baca issued orders to his team at a high-level meeting of top executives and investigators.

"The Sheriff didn't want the phone... and he didn't want the inmate to go anywhere," Tanaka said of Baca's orders at that crucial Saturday meeting.

"He wanted the inmate to be interviewed," Tanaka said, and the contents of his phone to be analyzed. Tanaka says Baca put Captain Tom Carey in charge of the investigation.

"Did you consider those orders to be lawful?" defense attorney Haig asked.

"I thought those orders were lawful," Tanaka replied.

Seven other deputies, sergeants and lieutenants have already been convicted of obstruction of justice in this same federal probe. Former Captain Tom Carey, who was indicted alongside Tanaka, took a plea deal last year in exchange for his cooperation.

Former Sheriff Leroy Baca also took a deal, pleading guilty in February to a single count of lying to the FBI about his knowledge of the LASD plan to confront and threaten to arrest an FBI agent on the case.

"He (Baca) was definitely calling the shots of this investigation," Tanaka told the FBI back in 2012, in a recorded interview obtained by Eyewitness News.

Tanaka reiterated that same general theme Friday, telling jurors that Sheriff Baca wanted frequent updates on the investigation. Tanaka says he'd refer Baca to the actual investigators on the case, and that he "wasn't involved in any way" that he could answer Baca's detailed questions about the operation.

Tanaka read back an email he sent in August of 2011 to Sgt. Steve Leavins: "This case is consuming his (Baca's) entire thought process."

The mysterious federal writ for Anthony Brown

At the core of the allegations against Tanaka is a federal writ - or court order - that was faxed to the Sheriff's Department on August 25th, 2011, demanding that the LASD turn inmate Anthony Brown over to federal authorities.

Prosecutors have noted it was on that very same date that deputies forced jail records personnel to falsify computer records to make it appear as if Brown had been "released" from LASD custody, and then swiped Brown's physical file, or "records jacket." In the following days, Brown was giving a series of alias names and moved to the San Dimas Station jail.

Tanaka seemed to admit to at least some knowledge of that writ in his grand jury testimony from December of 2012, also obtained by Eyewitness News.

"You became aware that there was a Federal Grand Jury writ or order that was supposed to cause Anthony Brown to be produced to the Federal Grand Jury; correct?" asked prosecutor Brandon Fox.

"I'm sure I was aware of that," Tanaka testified. "I don't recall it now."

"Do you recall any discussions concerning the writ of Anthony Brown?" Fox asked.

"I may have had them. I don't know," Tanaka told the grand jury.

Those responses and Tanaka's knowledge of the writ may be further explored by prosecutors when they resume their cross-examination Monday morning.

The Lynwood 'Vikings'

Prosecutor Brandon Fox got only about five minutes to cross-examine Tanaka before the end of court Friday afternoon.

Fox immediately asked Tanaka about his time as a Sergeant at the Lynwood Sheriff's station in the 1990's.

"You learned there was a deputy clique?" Fox asked.

"Yeah," Tanaka replied.

"And that deputy clique was known as 'The Vikings?'" asked Fox.

Defense attorneys quickly objected to that line of questioning. Judge Percy Anderson called both sides over to a sidebar, and then ordered attorneys to submit briefs on the subject before trial resumes on Monday.

The defense is expected to wrap up its case on Monday with a series of witnesses including former U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, former LASD legal counsel Paul Yoshinaga, and a series of character witnesses expected to testify about Tanaka's truthfulness.

Got a tip? Email ABC7 Investigative Producer Lisa.Bartley@abc.com
Related Topics:
newslos angeles county sheriff's departmenttrialcorruptionjailFBILos AngelesDowntown LALos Angeles County
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