LOS ANGELES — Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to ban former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka from telling a jury he was acting on behalf of his former boss when he allegedly helped develop a plan to derail an FBI probe into deputy misconduct at county jails, court papers obtained June 25 show.
According to prosecution papers filed in federal court, Tanaka’s proposed attempt to blame the former sheriff for the obstruction of justice charges he faces, is legally deficient “because no agent of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, not even then-Sheriff Leroy Baca, may authorize an individual to commit a federal crime.”
Tanaka recently filed notice with the court that he plans to defend himself against federal charges by arguing that he acted on “orders issued by Sheriff Leroy Baca, who was Mr. Tanaka’s ranking superior officer” when the alleged conspiracy took place.
In their filing, prosecutors said such a defense should be disallowed since whomever supposedly authorized a violation of federal law had no authority to do so.
“Because the Sheriff’s Department is not a federal agency, neither it nor its officials — even its top official — may authorize Tanaka to violate federal law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox wrote in the court filing.
It is expected that U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson will set a motions hearing to discuss the matter.
Tanaka and ex-sheriff’s Capt. Tom Carey are scheduled to go on trial in November.
Both are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and each is named in one count of obstruction of justice. Carey is additionally charged with two counts of lying on the witness stand last year during the trials of co-conspirators. If convicted, the men face the possibility of multiple years in federal prison.
Tanaka — who is on a leave of absence as mayor of Gardena — and Carey, who oversaw an internal sheriff’s criminal investigations unit until he retired in March, have denied the charges contained in a five-count indictment returned May 13 by a federal grand jury.
Tanaka and Carey have testified for the defense at three trials thus far in a federal probe of alleged abuse of inmates at county jails.
Prosecutors contend that Tanaka oversaw a plan in 2011 to “hide” inmate-turned-informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.
Brown was booked and re-booked under a series of false names, and was eventually told he had been abandoned by the FBI.
Seven former Sheriff’s Department officials — including two lieutenants and two sergeants — were convicted in 2014 for their roles in the cover-up.
All claimed they had been following orders from superiors in assisting a legitimate investigation into how and why a cell phone had been smuggled into Men’s Central Jail.
The FBI was investigating claims of excessive force against inmates by Sheriff’s Department jailers, and had intended to have Brown testify to this before a grand jury.