Opening statements expected in Tanaka corruption trial

ByLisa Bartley KABC logo
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Paul Tanaka

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- In November 2012, then-LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka sat down for a voluntary interview with three FBI agents who already had him in the crosshairs of their sweeping investigation into alleged abuse and corruption inside the Los Angeles County jails.

"There's nobody that wants to get rid of bad cops more than I do," Tanaka insisted to the BI agents in audio recordings obtained by Eyewitness News.

LISTEN: Paul Tanaka's interview with FBI agents

Today, Paul Tanaka sits inside a federal courtroom as a criminal defendant facing charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Tanaka has pleaded not guilty.

Opening statements are expected to get underway Thursday afternoon after a jury is selected. Tanaka, the former second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, is accused of leading a scheme to thwart an FBI investigation into alleged deputy-on-inmate abuse and corruption inside the jails.

Tanaka is the highest-ranking former LASD official to stand trial. Seven other former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants were convicted and sentenced in 2014 to prison terms ranging from 18 to 41 months. Those seven remain free on bond while their cases are being appealed to the 9th circuit.

MORE: 6 sheriff's deputies sentenced to prison

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Former LASD Capt. Tom Carey, who was indicted alongside Tanaka, struck a deal with prosecutors in August 2015. Carey is expected to testify against Tanaka after agreeing to plead guilty to one count of making a false statement.

Former Sheriff Leroy Baca is also facing possible prison time after he admitted to lying to FBI agents and federal prosecutors in an April 2013 interview also obtained by Eyewitness News.

MORE: Former Sheriff Lee Baca pleads guilty to misleading FBI

MORE: Did Sheriff Baca's fury push deputies to break the law?

Baca, 74, will be sentenced in May. Under the terms of his plea deal, he can be sentenced to no more than six months in prison. Baca is not expected to testify at Tanaka's trial. His attorney has said the longtime leader of the LASD would plead the 5th if called to the witness stand.

Tanaka's trial appears to be the final chapter in a years-long federal investigation into the events of the summer of 2011. Prosecutors say Tanaka and his co-conspirators took deliberate steps to hide an inmate-turned-informant from his FBI handlers, tampered with witnesses and threatened to arrest an FBI agent.

Tanaka has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. In that recorded interview with the FBI, he characterized Baca as "definitely calling the shots of this investigation."

MORE: ABC7 obtains LASD trial evidence