by Andrew Emett
May 16, 2015
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It's another case of corruption within a police department after an undersheriff and captain were accused of corruptly influencing and impeding an FBI investigation into abuse and bribery. The L.A. Sheriff's Department has a noted culture and acceptance of corruption.
A former Los Angeles undersheriff and sheriff’s captain surrendered to authorities on Thursday after a federal grand jury indicted them on obstruction and conspiracy charges. Accused of corruptly influencing and impeding an FBI investigation into abuse and bribery within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD), former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and retired Captain William “Tom” Carey allegedly ordered deputies to secretly transfer an FBI informant under false names and engage in witness tampering. Former Capt. Carey has also been accused of providing false testimony in two separate trials.
In September 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report documenting over 70 instances of excessive force, misconduct, and sexual assault committed by deputies. A few months later, the ACLU sued the Sheriff’s Department accusing then-Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka of covering up and condoning violence against prisoners. After attempting several times to notify Baca and his staff about the abuses, corruption, and misconduct committed by deputies at Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) in Downtown Los Angeles, former sheriff’s commander Bob Olmsted contacted the FBI.
“I knew I had to act, and as a result, I notified the FBI of the department’s culture and acceptance of excessive force, inmate abuse, sheriff’s gangs, and corruption,” admitted retired Cmdr. Olmsted.
According to the indictment, a former deputy, an ACLU employee, numerous inmates, and a chaplain all reported witnessing deputies using excessive force against inmates. In May 2010, a former LASD deputy trainee reported to Carey that the trainee, his training officer, and several other deputies participated in a premeditated beating of an inmate with mental disabilities.
Conducting an investigation into these allegations of abuse and corruption within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, FBI Agent Leah Marx recruited an inmate named Anthony Brown to work as an FBI informant. Brown had been arrested in 2009 for robbing banks, drug stores, and restaurants throughout Downtown Los Angeles. Convicted of his third strike, Brown was sentenced to 423 years in prison and serving his time at MCJ.
While secretly working for the FBI, Brown bribed Deputy Gilbert Michel to smuggle a cellphone into the prison. A few weeks later, FBI agents confronted Deputy Michel showing him a video of Michel accepting the bribe. Michel agreed to cooperate with the FBI by gathering more evidence against his corrupt and abusive colleagues.
Brown concealed the cellphone for less than three weeks before a deputy confiscated it. When asked how he acquired the phone, Brown eventually admitted that he had been working as an FBI informant. Brown told the deputies that he had used the phone to record video and take photographs of inmates being beaten by deputies without provocation.
On August 19, 2011, Tanaka allegedly met with his co-conspirators, Lieutenant Gregory Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith, and Deputy Mickey Manzo, to discuss the FBI cellphone confiscated from Brown. The following day, Tanaka met with the co-conspirators to discuss the FBI investigation and cellphone with Carey.
Unable to contact Brown with the smuggled cellphone, FBI agents Leah Marx and David Lam arrived at MCJ to interview him on August 23, 2011. Overseeing the Operation Safe Jails Program and its Jail Investigations Unit, Lt. Thompson suddenly terminated the interview. After the FBI agents left, Tanaka and Carey met with their co-conspirators and decided to secretly transfer Brown to another station under a false name. Before transferring Brown to another facility, Lt. Thompson surreptitiously moved him to a cell in the infectious diseases medical ward guarded by deputies Smith and Manzo.
On August 24, 2011, Tanaka assigned deputies to go undercover as prisoners to obtain information about the FBI investigation from Brown. Under Tanaka’s orders, Manzo drafted a new policy requiring the FBI to receive approval from Tanaka before interviewing any inmates under his custody.
Allegedly operating under Tanaka’s authority, Lt. Thompson ordered Deputy James Sexton to start falsifying entries into the database claiming Brown had been released. Instead, the deputies held Brown under the false name “John Rodriguez” before secretly transferring him to the San Dimas station.
After arriving at the San Dimas station under the false name “Kevin King,” Brown found Deputy Sexton standing guard outside his cell preventing any outside contact. Meanwhile, Lt. Stephen Leavins, Sgt. Scott Craig, and Sgt. Maricella Long of the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB) began conducting surveillance on Deputy Michel. According to recorded interviews, Leavins and Craig attempted to coerce Michel into refusing to cooperate with the FBI investigation. Sergeants Craig and Long also engaged in witness tampering by convincing Brown to cease working as an FBI informant.
Growing increasingly paranoid, Tanaka ordered LASD personnel to check his office, the ICIB Task Force’s office, and conference rooms for listening devices on September 2, 2011. That same day, Thompson, Smith, and Manzo changed Brown’s name to “Chris Johnson” in the database. After Deputy Michel confessed to beating handcuffed prisoners, Carey reportedly ordered Craig and Long to begin conducting surveillance on FBI agents Marx and Lam.
In an effort to intimidate Agent Marx, Sgt. Craig confronted the FBI agent at her house on September 26, 2011. Captured on surveillance video, Craig lied to Marx by telling her that she was a named suspect in a felony complaint and threatened to obtain a warrant for her arrest.
A few hours later, Marx’s FBI Supervisor, Special Agent Carlos Narro called the Sheriff’s Department and spoke with Sgt. Long. When asked if Sheriff Baca knew about the warrant to arrest Marx, Sgt. Long affirmed that Baca was aware of the warrant. When asked what specific charges were filed against Marx, Sgt. Long answered, “Ok, you’re going to have to speak to the Undersheriff, and that’s Mr. Paul Tanaka.”
Between August and December 2011, Tanaka and Carey allegedly conspired and corruptly endeavored to influence, instruct, and impede a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and abuse by sheriff’s deputies working within Los Angeles County Jails. Carey has also been charged with providing false testimony at Sexton and Thompson’s trials in regards to Brown’s transfer. On May 19 and June 11, 2014, Carey allegedly lied about his ignorance concerning his co-conspirators’ intentions to keep Brown isolated from the FBI.
After Deputy Michel pleaded guilty to bribery in 2012 and began cooperating with the FBI, Baca impelled Tanaka to retire the following year. Multiple investigations conducted by the FBI led to the arrests of at least 18 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies. Although Baca had planned to run for re-election, he decided to retire amidst the exposure of numerous corruption and abuse scandals within his department. Last year, Tanaka campaigned for Los Angeles County Sheriff, but lost in a landslide defeat against Jim McDonnell. Tanaka is currently the mayor of Gardena.
Former Sheriff Lee Baca currently does not face any criminal charges.