Former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka sentenced to 5 years for obstruction of justice

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in a wide-ranging conspiracy to derail a federal investigation into jail misconduct.

Tanaka stood silently in court as Judge Percy Anderson handed down the sentence on Monday. Anderson blasted Tanaka for his arrogance and "gross abuse of public trust."

The judge also described Tanaka as "evasive, combative and not credible" on the stand. Anderson also said throughout Tanaka's career, he valued "loyalty over honor" and created an environment in which deputies were encouraged to cover up abuses.

Anderson continued to rip into Tanaka, saying the former undersheriff has never taken responsibility for his actions.

In addition to the five-year prison term, Tanaka was also ordered to serve two years of supervised release after he gets out of prison and pay a $7,500 fine.

"Paul Tanaka does not believe that he did anything of a criminal nature. There are decisions he made I'm sure he would re-do if he had a chance to do it again, but there's been no acceptance of responsibility because he hasn't committed any crimes in our view," said Tanaka's attorney, H. Dean Steward.

Steward said he was stunned by the judge's comments.

"The speech that he made, we thought, was over-the-top as well. There's some things in there that we think are going to be grounds for appeal, and that's definitely where we're going," he said.

Tanaka was found guilty in April by a federal jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The 57-year-old was accused of leading a conspiracy to hide jail inmate Anthony Brown after the sheriff's department learned Brown was an FBI informant, feeding information to the feds about suspected corruption and excessive force against inmates inside the Men's Central Jail.

"His actions harmed the sheriff's department, harmed law enforcement everywhere and the good men and women who strive every day to uphold their oaths and serve justice," said U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker following the sentencing. "The sentence today demonstrated that, indeed, no one is above the law."

During Tanaka's trial, he testified that he wasn't aware of the cover-up efforts, but jury members said they did not believe he was unaware of the situation.

Tanaka retired from the sheriff's department in 2013 and ran unsuccessfully to replace his former boss Lee Baca, but he lost by a wide margin to Jim McDonnell.

Steward said in court records that the government distorted the facts from the beginning, emphasizing that the blame should be on Baca.

Baca pleaded guilty in February to lying to investigators.

Overall, 21 members of the sheriff's department have been convicted of federal crimes that include beating inmates, obstructing justice, bribery and conspiracy. The convictions stem from a grand jury investigation that began in 2010 into allegations of abuse and corruption at Men's Central Jail.

Baca had said he was out of touch with what was going on and denied knowing about efforts to stifle the probe by hiding the FBI informant. He faces up to six months in prison when he is sentenced on July 11.

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.
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