LOS ANGELES (CN) – Testimony in the trial of former LA Undersheriff Paul Tanaka continued Tuesday as jurors heard audio recordings of sheriff officials interviewing an FBI informant, who prosecutors say was hidden during a corruption probe.
Tanaka, 57, is standing trial on charges that he obstructed an FBI investigation into brutality at the Men’s Central Jail in LA by conspiring to hide informant Anthony Brown within the jail system, and threatening the arrest of FBI Agent 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. The official, on a leave of absence from his new job as mayor of Gardena, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The government says that Tanaka was involved in a plot to hide Brown from FBI agents investigating jail abuses after their cover was blown in a related covert investigation into allegations that deputies were smuggling contraband to inmates.
After taking Monday off, the 14 members of the jury returned to U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom on Tuesday morning to hear testimony from LA Sheriff Deputy Mickey Manzo and FBI special agent David Dahle.
They testified about Brown, who was an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles when jailers discovered a cellphone that had been smuggled into the jail in August 2011.
According to a trial memo filed by the government, an undercover FBI agent posed as Brown’s friend using the alias CJ and passed the 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 a deputy 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.
Baca then called Tanaka, setting in motion a series of communications between several department officials, including Tanaka’s aide Christopher Nee, Operation Safe Jails Lt. Greg Thompson and Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau Capt. Tom Carey, according to the government.
Under Thompson’s orders, Manzo and another officer, Gerard Smith, interviewed Brown on the morning of Aug 19, 2011, so that officials could get to the bottom of the FBI investigation.
After subsequent interviews, prosecutors say, Tanaka and other officials conspired to hide Brown by moving him to a medical ward within the jail.
But during his cross-examination of Manzo on Tuesday, Tanaka’s attorney Harry Dean Steward suggested that officers had moved Brown because they were concerned that his life could be in danger.
“Any number of inmates would like nothing better than to stab him, right?” Steward asked Manzo.
Though that question was struck after prosecutor Brandon Fox objected, Manzo said he had been tasked with protecting Brown.
FBI special agent David Dahle next took the stand, telling jurors that he had joined the public corruption investigation into Men’s Central Jail and the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in August 2011.
With Dahle on the stand, jurors heard several taped interviews between Brown, Manzo, Smith, Lt. Stephen Leavins and Capt. Carey.
In an initial interview, Brown told Smith that he would only talk to them about how he came into possession of the phone if they allowed him to shower and shave, and gave him cigarettes, a cheeseburger and soda.
“I know you’re working for the feds, dude,” Smith said during the interview played to the court. Later he said of the phone: “It’s made for the fucking FBI.”
In another interview after which Brown admitted that he was working with the FBI, Brown said: “It’s not just the cigarettes, the dope, the cellphones, the attempted murders, the robberies – the stuff that’s being created by the deputies and the staff here. It’s been going on a long time and they got people all over the fucking place.”
Dahle testified that the FBI managed to interview Brown two days after his interview with Leavins and other officials at the Men’s Central Jail on Aug. 23, 2011.
The special agent testified that agents talked to Brown, who was handcuffed, for about an hour about the discovery of the phone when the door was “thrown open” by Sgt. Wayne Waterman. The sergeant yelled at the agents and asked them why they were talking to Brown, Dahle told jurors.
According to Dahle, a group of officers then entered the room and took Brown out before they could finish the interview.
The government’s trial memo says Tanaka was furious when he learned that the FBI had gained access to Brown.
“It was in this meeting that the co-conspirators, specifically Carey and Tanaka discussed moving Brown in order to keep him away from the FBI,” Fox wrote in a March 16 filing.
Sheriff Commander Judy Gerhardt took the stand in the afternoon. She is scheduled to continue her testimony on Wednesday morning.
Thompson, Leavins, Smith and Manzo were convicted in 2014 for their part in obstructing the corruption investigation.
Baca pleaded guilty in February to lying to federal investigators. He faces up to five years in prison.
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