Joel Rubin
June 27, 2016

For years, allegations of inmate beatings by sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles County jails swirled. When they did, one name surfaced over and over: Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka, a Sheriff’s Department veteran who rose to become second in command of one of the county’s largest police agencies, was dogged by accusations that he gave deputies free reign to use violence as they saw fit and protected them from repercussions.

The diminutive but nonetheless imposing leader dismissed the claims as baseless grumblings from underlings who were unwilling to live up to his exacting standards or harbored jealousies about his success.

But on Monday, that self-portrait cracked and crumbled for good as a stone-faced Tanaka stood before a federal judge who excoriated the former undersheriff for his ethical failures before sentencing him to five years in prison.

Tanaka, 57, was convicted in April of conspiracy and obstructing an FBI investigation into deputy jail abuses. Prosecutors accused him of overseeing a scheme in which underlings tried to intimidate the lead FBI agent on the inquiry, concealed the whereabouts of an inmate who was working as a federal informant and pressured deputies not to cooperate with the investigation.
Former Los Angeles county undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, sentenced to five years in prison

Tanaka was convicted of obstructing a corruption investigation.

Speaking in a downtown courtroom packed with friends and foes of Tanaka, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson sharply rejected the defiant stance Tanaka has maintained throughout the case that he was unfairly scapegoated and knew little of what was unfolding around him.

“Not only did he fail to identify and address problems in the jails, he exacerbated them,” the judge said of Tanaka.

The former undersheriff, who had continued to serve as mayor of Gardena, is one of 10 people who have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the obstruction case. The group includes former Sheriff Lee Baca, who stepped down two years ago amid the growing scandal and earlier this year admitted to a charge that he lied to federal investigators.

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