Federal prosecutors on Tuesday called into question the credibility of Los Angeles County sheriff’s candidate Paul Tanaka, accusing the former undersheriff of making inconsistent statements on the witness stand about why deputies moved an FBI informant around in the jails under a string of bogus names.
Tanaka testified last week that he gave orders that the inmate informant was to be kept safe and secure, and said that even though he did not give specific directions about how that was to be achieved, he “did not disagree” with the steps taken by deputies or think it was problematic. Six sheriff’s officials are facing obstruction of justice charges for their actions following the discovery of a phone that had been smuggled to the inmate by FBI agents investigating civil rights violations by deputies guarding the jails.
On Tuesday, a prosecutor attempted to impeach Tanaka, confronting the former second in command of the Sheriff’s Department with statements that he previously made in an FBI interview and grand jury testimony, in which he said he did not know why the inmate was moved or why his name was changed in the jail’s computer system. Tanaka said at the time that the deputies may have wanted to keep the inmate, Anthony Brown, from being transferred to state prison, but made no mention of keeping him from being harmed by deputies he was informing on, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox said.
“You didn’t discuss anything about Anthony Brown’s safety and security, did you?” Fox asked. “A year after the event you had no idea of the reason?”
Tanaka said at the time of the interview and grand jury testimony in late 2012 that he hadn’t had the opportunity to review the records he was later given and to reflect on the events of August and September 2011. “When I was interviewed I answered the question as best as I could,” he said, testifying that he came to a fuller understanding “in really sitting back and thinking about the situation.”
His best recollection now, Tanaka testified, was that Brown was moved around under false names for his own safety and for the integrity of the Sheriff’s Department’s own investigation into the smuggled phone.
Prosecutors once again asked Tanaka to acknowledge that he remains a subject in the ongoing investigation into the jails. He said he received a letter stating he was not a target of the investigation in advance of testifying before the grand jury in December 2012, but said he had not received any such assurances since then.
Ronald Nessim, Tanaka’s criminal attorney, said in a statement Tuesday that he is “confident that Paul Tanaka has always done his best to only testify to the truth and has, except for possible innocent and inadvertent misrecollections given the passage of time and his lack of access to documents, always done so.”
“He was expressly told before both appearances that he was not a target and was not told that he was a subject of the investigation. Given these representations, he was not represented by counsel at either appearance,” Nessim said.
In his two-day testimony, Tanaka said he did not remember many of the details of his involvement in what prosecutors allege was a conspiracy to keep federal authorities out of the jails and intimidate FBI agents to impede their investigation.
He was asked about an email directive that was sent to staff members at the Men’s Central Jail, a draft of which said all FBI requests for inmate interviews had to be directly approved by Tanaka. Lt. Gregory Thompson, one of the defendants in the case, wrote at the time in an email to Tanaka’s aide: “Was Mr. Tanaka going to make the changes on the FBI notice ... or will he be satisfied if I remove all reference to him or the executives?”
“He said that you were going to make changes to it,” the aide, Christopher Nee, wrote in a reply that was shown to jurors as evidence.
Tanaka testified that he did not specifically remember giving an order that his name was to be removed from the directive. “I don’t have any recollection of a conversation such as that,” he said.
Tanaka was also asked whether he requested a copy of a court order that a defendant, Sgt. Scott Craig, was seeking from a Superior Court judge compelling the FBI to turn over information about its jails investigation. “After the document gets signed tomorrow, would you please make a copy for Mr. Tanaka?” Nee wrote in an email to Craig’s supervisor at the time, Lt. Stephen Leavins, who is also a defendant. “You got it,” Leavins replied in the exchange, which was presented to jurors.
“I don’t remember that,” Tanaka testified.
Tanaka nonetheless vehemently denied that the hiding of the inmate was triggered by federal prosecutors obtaining a court order to have Brown testify before the grand jury.
“It was to ensure the inmate’s safety because he had been labeled as an informant against deputies, and to maintain the integrity of the investigation,” he said.