LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal grand jury indicted a former Los Angeles County undersheriff and a retired captain on obstruction and conspiracy charges in a long-running investigation of inmate abuse and corruption, prosecutors said on Thursday.
Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was the second-highest official in the Sheriff’s Department and is currently mayor of the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena, is accused alongside another former official of leading efforts to quash a federal probe of corruption and civil rights violations at two downtown jail complexes, acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said.
Tanaka, who last year ran unsuccessfully for sheriff, surrendered to federal law enforcement on Thursday, officials said. The other former official, William Carey, who oversaw internal criminal investigations at the department, also turned himself in.
“The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts,” David Bowdich, an FBI assistant director in charge, said at a news conference.
The case follows indictments unsealed in 2013 that accused about 20 current and former sheriff’s deputies of subjecting inmates and visitors at two downtown Los Angeles lockups to unjustified beatings or detentions and of trying to cover up wrongdoing.
Several officers were found guilty of conspiring to undermine an FBI probe by trying to prevent contact between federal investigators and an inmate informant after his cover was blown. They altered records to make it appear the informant was released from jail, then re-booked him under false names.
The Sheriff’s Department is responsible for managing the Los Angeles County jail system, which houses about 20,000 inmates and is the largest in the nation.
The new indictment makes Tanaka and Carey the highest-ranking officials charged in that conspiracy, and Yonekura said the charges show the scheme to obstruct justice rose to the “executive level” of the Sheriff’s Department.
But, in response to questions, she declined to comment on whether former Sheriff Lee Baca might also be charged in the case. He retired last year.
Tanaka and Carey each face one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of justice, and Carey also is charged with two counts of lying on the stand over testimony he gave in trials of sheriff’s officers.
The indictment accuses Tanaka of telling subordinates in 2009 that deputies should be allowed to work in the “gray area” of the law and of expressing a wish to cut back his department’s internal affairs bureau, which probes abuse by deputies, to one investigator from 45.
Tanaka’s attorney Dean Steward said in a statement he would aggressively defend his client against the charges.
“At all times, Mr. Tanaka dedicated himself to serving the residents of Los Angeles County honorably, ethically and legally,” Steward said. Carey’s attorney declined comment.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Lambert, Bill Trott, Emily Stephenson and Eric Beech