Upon review, perhaps it was not a good idea for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to move FBI informant Anthony Brown from jail to jail in 2011, dodging the bureau while trying to find out what the feds’ sting operation had on them.
Brown eventually surfaced and the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged 18 department officials in five separate cases with a wide range of abuses. Prosecutors lost the first case in May when a hung jury did not find Deputy James Sexton guilty of obstructing justice, but won convictions on Tuesday against two deputies, two sergeants, a lieutenant and a now-retired lieutenant.
Sexton was the least experienced of the seven, with just three years on the job, a fact the jury may have considered in his defense—that he was just following orders. Sexton had contacted the FBI and told them what was going on. But none of the six convicted were high-ranking. They too implicated the chain of command, including former-Sheriff Lee Baca and then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
Each of the six defendants face up to 15 years in federal prison and are scheduled to be sentenced September 8 by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson.
Tanaka is in a November runoff to be sheriff after finishing a distant second to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell last month. Tanaka left the department last year and Baca resigned in January.
The FBI was using Brown in a sting and smuggled a cellphone to him using a corrupt deputy. When deputies found the phone, they began moving Brown around to avoid having to log him into the system while they questioned him and figured out their next move.
One of the next moves was for two of the accused to show up at an FBI agent’s home and tell her they were getting a warrant for her arrest. Those two sergeants were convicted of making false statements to an FBI agent, in addition to the obstruction of justice offenses they were all found guilty of.
The FBI’s interest in the Sheriff’s Department dates back years, amid an onslaught of bad publicity involving corruption, racism, jailhouse violence and civil rights violations.
The prosecutor gave Tanaka a tough time on the witness stand last month when he testified that he had relayed orders from Baca to keep Brown secure for his own safety but didn’t know they were impeding a federal investigation. Much was made of discrepancies between his testimony on the stand and what he told a grand jury in 2012.
Tanaka is still a subject of an ongoing grand jury investigation. He received 15% of the vote in the June election, compared to 49.4% for McDonnell.