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Tanaka Denies Hiding Informant from FBI

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Former LA undersheriff Paul Tanaka on Friday denied he had obstructed an investigation into brutality in the jail system, testifying in court that he did not hide an informant from FBI agents after jailers found an FBI phone in his cell.

Tanaka, 57, is on trial on charges that he obstructed an investigation into deputy-on-inmate abuse at the Men's Central Jail in LA - conspiring to hide informant Anthony Brown within the jail system, and threatening the arrest of FBI Agent Leah Tanner, known at that time as Leah Marx.

Before his retirement in 2013, Tanaka was Sheriff Leroy Baca's second-in-command. He is currently on a leave of absence from his new job as mayor of Gardena.

Prosecutors say that Tanaka ignored jail violence and other acts of officer misconduct.

After the prosecution rested its case on Friday morning, Tanaka took the stand and over more than two hours of testimony said he had never violated a law or policy at the Sheriff's Department.

"I had no tolerance for deputies who wore a badge and violated the law," Tanaka said.

During direct examination, Tanaka's attorney Jerome Haig asked: "Did you ever issue any orders that Anthony Brown should be hidden from the FBI?"

"No," Tanaka said.

Tanaka also told the court that he did not deny requests by the FBI to enter the jail system and interview inmates.

Prosecutors say otherwise.

According to the government, an undercover FBI agent posed as Brown's friend using the alias CJ and passed an FBI cellphone on to Sheriff's Deputy Gilbert Michel, who agreed to take a bribe to deliver the phone to the inmate.

The government says that the operation was compromised when jailers found the cellphone in Brown's cell, learned that an officer had given it to Brown and that he had been using the jail's phone system to make contact with the FBI.

According to prosecutors, when the FBI realized its cover had been blown, agency director Steven Martinez contacted Sheriff Leroy Baca and told him that Brown's cellphone was part of a covert investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption at the jail.

In a trial memo filed March 22, the government claims that at an Aug. 20, 2011 meeting at Sheriff's Department headquarters in Monterey Park with Baca and other officials, Tanaka slammed his hands on a table and said "Fuck the FBI" more than once.

Baca put Tanaka "in charge of everything having to do with the phone or the FBI," the government says in the memo, and Tanaka later returned to the meeting and told those present that agents should not be allowed to interview Brown.

Tanaka's recollection of the meeting was starkly different. Dressed in a gray suit, a pale blue shirt and striped tie, Tanaka was calm, collected and polite throughout the proceedings but rarely looked at jurors.

He told the court that Baca had run the meeting and that he did not remember making any orders.

When Haig asked him about the "Fuck the FBI" outburst, Tanaka responded, "I certainly don't have a recollection of making that kind of comment."

Instead, Tanaka said he was more irritated at Michel for smuggling in the cellphone. Tanaka said he was "very upset" and felt the officer had dishonored his badge.

While downplaying his own involvement, Tanaka said that Baca had directed the investigation into Brown's phone.

"He said he didn't want the phone and he didn't want the inmate to go anywhere," Tanaka said, adding that he believed Baca's orders were lawful.

During the trial, the government's witnesses have testified that Tanaka conspired with other officials to hide Brown from the FBI.

Special Agent Leah Tanner told the court Thursday that Brown was rebooked and had appeared on the jail's computer system under different names so that the department could conceal his whereabouts.

In order to bring Brown over to federal custody, a court issued a writ for Brown to appear before a federal grand jury. But Tanner said she was only able to locate Brown after he was transferred to a state prison.

If convicted, Tanaka faces up to five years in federal prison for conspiracy and up to 10 years for obstruction of justice.

Baca, who oversaw the largest jail system in the nation from December 1998 until he retired in January 2014, pleaded guilty in February to lying to federal investigators. He faces up to five years in prison.

The government is scheduled to resume its cross-examination of Tanaka in U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson's courtroom on Monday at 8:00 a.m.

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