LA Sheriff's Department inmate scandal: New questions about Paul Tanaka's role


Tanaka is running to be the next sheriff of L.A. County. But questions continue to swirl about his role in what became known as "Operation Pandora's Box," an alleged scheme that's already led to seven sheriff's deputies being indicted.

An email from Deputy Gerard Smith has some very specific instructions for the deputies who were in charge of keeping tabs on the FBI informant, Brown, who was an inmate at Men's Central Jail. It asks the people "on this email thread to check in with a senior deputy at the start or their shift ... And to confirm that the inmate is alive."

Anthony Brown is a convicted armed robber who became an FBI informant. He's at the center of a federal investigation that's shaken the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to its core.

Brown was recruited by the FBI while awaiting trial at Men's Central Jail. His mission was to report back to the FBI on possible corruption and abuse within the massive and notoriously troubled facility, which is run by the sheriff's department.

Seven current and former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department were indicted in December, accused of obstructing justice, including hiding Brown from the FBI once his cover as an informant was blown.

Eyewitness News has obtained a series of internal sheriff's department emails sent to and from members of the specialized team of deputies that moved and allegedly hid Brown. The latest email to surface is from Deputy Gerard Smith, one of those indicted.

In it, Smith tells the team that Brown cannot be moved "without the presence of the following people: US Tanaka, ICIB Cpt. Tom Carey, ICIB LT. Leavins, LT. G. Thompson, Dep. G. Smith or Dep. M. Manzo."

Steve Leavins, Greg Thompson, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo have all been indicted. All pleaded not guilty.

Former Undersheriff Tanaka and Capt. Carey have not been indicted, nor have they been accused of any crime.

Tanaka declined an Eyewitness News request for an on-camera interview Monday and has refused to speak to Eyewitness News about the Anthony Brown case since the indictments were unsealed in December.

But Tanaka did speak about it in an interview with ABC7's David Ono in May. He said then he was "out of the loop" on the Anthony Brown operation after a meeting convened by then-sheriff Baca.

"So at that point I'm basically out of the loop, because now he's communicating directly to the captain and the lieutenant of the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau," Tanaka said in May.

I asked now-retired Sheriff Lee Baca about that statement in December: "Tanaka said he was out of the loop once that phone was found after that meeting. Is that true?"

"Absolutely not," Baca said on December 19, 2013. "Mr. Tanaka was fully in the loop, in fact more in the loop than even me."

Monday, Tanaka did issue a statement to Eyewitness News that refers to what he calls "direct orders" by then-sheriff Baca.

"While I was involved in some aspects of the implementation of these orders, I was not involved in or had knowledge of other aspects and my name was sometimes used without my knowledge or consent because of my position," Tanaka said in the statement. [See the full statement below.]

Tanaka declined to elaborate, and noted that he will likely be subpoenaed as a witness at the upcoming obstruction of justice trial.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has made it clear its investigation is ongoing.

Multiple sources who were directly involved in the Brown operation told Eyewitness News they were told by the indicted Lt. Greg Thompson that if anyone questioned what they were doing with inmate Brown, they should instruct that person to call then-undersheriff Tanaka.

A similar story comes in sworn deposition testimony from Lieutenant Katherine Voyer. She was working at the downtown jail complex in the summer of 2011 and testified about the orders she received: "No federal agents were allowed in the facility and if they came with the writ, call Mr. Tanaka's cell phone, personal cell phone."

"Mr. Tanaka was very hands-on in how he handled this department," said Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association. "So he knew pretty much everything that was going on in this department."

Moriguchi's union represents some of those indicted.

"A sergeant or a lieutenant would not make that decision on his or her own. That decision has to be authorized or ordered from higher up, and very likely very high up in the organization," said Moriguchi.

The Gerard Smith email goes on to say about the Brown investigation: "This is one of the most important investigations involving the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in its 160-year history."

Tanaka is currently one of seven candidates for L.A. County sheriff. The primary election is scheduled for June 3.

Statement from Paul Tanaka, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014:
"When the indictments were first released, I refrained from going into details about my involvement because the investigation is ongoing, and out of respect for the process, I believed these matters should be handled in the courts and not in the press. However, after multiple attacks by opponents, I now feel compelled to make a broader statement. I have been interviewed by the FBI and I have testified before the grand jury regarding my knowledge and involvement in this matter. That being said, with regard to a deputy unlawfully providing a cellphone to inmate Anthony Brown, the Sheriff made two broad directives with regard to his handling and the smuggling of the cellphone. Both of which were direct orders and, to my knowledge, were made in good faith and were not illegal. While I was involved in some aspects of the implementation of these orders, I was not involved in or had knowledge of other aspects and my name was sometimes used without my knowledge or consent because of my position. Because of the ongoing nature of these matters, I have been told that I will be subpoenaed as a witness in the upcoming obstruction trial, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to make further public statements on this matter."

Contact the producer of this investigation:

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.