Tanaka Jury Hears of Request to Search FBI

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – An LA judge testifying in the trial of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka on Thursday described how a sheriff’s deputy visited him in chambers to ask him to sign a search warrant for the FBI’s Los Angeles offices.
     Superior Court Judge John Torribio took the stand on the sixth day of trial in U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson’s downtown courtroom.
     Tanaka, 57, is on trial on charges that he obstructed an FBI investigation into brutality 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, who at that time was known as Leah Marx.
     Before his retirement in 2013, Tanaka was Sheriff Leroy Baca’s second-in-command.
     Prosecutors say that Tanaka ignored jail violence and other acts of deputy misconduct.
     “Instead, he fostered a corrupt culture within the jails and the department,” prosecutor Brandon Fox wrote in court papers filed earlier this month.
     Tanaka, on a leave of absence from his new job as mayor of Gardena, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
     Jurors heard on Thursday how LASD Sgt. Scott Craig visited Torribio’s chambers in Norwalk on Sept. 8, 2011. At the meeting, he asked the judge to grant an order so the department could look at FBI records relating to its investigation into brutality at the Men’s Central Jail.
     The request came after the department discovered in August 2011 that the FBI had smuggled a cellphone to inmate Anthony Brown so he could notify agents if he witnessed abuses in the jail.
     Torribio said that he knew Craig on a first-name basis when he met the sergeant and another deputy in his chambers and had signed off on multiple orders for Craig before.
     Though Craig was seeking an order that would give the department access to FBI investigation records regarding the locations of other FBI cellphones in Men’s Central, the sergeant was matter-of-fact about the request, stating: “‘Judge, I’m here for a warrant,” Torribio said.
     He did not say much else, according to the judge.
     The judge said he explained to Craig that he could not grant the order because he had no jurisdiction over a federal agency. He said that he denied the request there and then.
     “When I looked at this it wasn’t a little different, it was completely different. I’d never seen anything like it before,” Torribio told Tanaka’s attorney Jerome Haig during cross-examination.
     After leaving Torribio’s Norwalk court empty-handed, Craig stepped up his efforts to take action against the FBI, the court heard.
     The following day, he left a message on what he was believed was FBI Special Agent Leah Tanner’s voicemail stating that he was “investigating a felony complaint” in which Tanner was “named as a suspect.” Craig said he was reaching out to Tanner as a “professional courtesy.”
     After taking the stand on Thursday, Tanner said that she never got the message because Craig had used the wrong extension number and that nobody at the agency got the message.
     As the extent of the FBI’s investigation into the jail system became apparent to Tanaka and other officials, Craig and Sgt. Maricella Long approached Tanner outside her apartment complex when she returned home from work on Sept. 26, 2011, the court heard.
     In a videotaped encounter shown to the court, Craig tells Tanner that she is the “named suspect in a felony complaint” and that he is “in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant.”
     Tanner told the court that she had gone straight into her apartment and called her supervisor, who had told her to come back to the office.
     That same day, Supervisory Special Agent Carlos Narro called Long and said that Tanner had informed him that there was a pending warrant for her arrest.
     “There’s going to be,” Long told Narro.
     “Does the sheriff know this?” Narro said in audio played to jurors.
     “The sheriff knows this, sir,” Long replied.
     When Narro asked what Tanner was going to be charged with, Long told him that he would have to call Tanaka to find out.
     After Narro hung up, laughter was audible. Long said to Craig: “They’re scared. They’re like, do you know when the warrant “
     Craig then reminded her that the conversation was still being taped and the recording was stopped.
     Tanner told the court that she was never arrested.
     Former deputy Gilbert Michel, who smuggled the cellphone to Brown, took the stand to testify in the morning. Michel eventually agreed to cooperate with FBI’s investigation into the jail system.
     Michel told the court he had been involved in the beatings of two inmates. The first went unreported and deputies filed a false report after the second incident, he said.
     Michel has pleaded guilty to felony bribery charges as part of plea agreement.
     If convicted, Tanaka faces up to five years in federal prison for conspiracy and up to 10 years for obstruction of justice.

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