THE MYSTERY OF THE SURREPTITIOUSLY BOUGHT AND SHIPPED LASD VESTS THAT WENT TO CAMBODIA VIA…GARDENA
The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have written a very well-reported tale of peculiar and, it seems, illegal behavior on the part of higher-ups in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department—most specifically Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—that, I suspect, will have all but the most ardent LASD watchers scratching their heads in confused befuddlement.
Yet, there is much to suggest that this may be a more significant story than it appears to be on the surface, and one that points beyond itself to something bigger and weirder.
Here’s a big clip. However, please read the whole thing.
A decade ago, Gardena Police Capt. Tom Monson was surprised to discover that a $5,190 check had been mailed to his station from the Honorary Consulate of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Monson was unable to figure out what business the small police agency had with the government of Cambodia.
Shortly afterward, Monson was presented with another vexing puzzle. His police department had recently purchased 173 bulletproof vests from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — a lot, considering that the department had fewer than 100 officers.
Then he noticed the price of those vests: $5,190. The same amount the Kingdom of Cambodia had paid to the department.
So began a mystery about ballistic vests, international police connections and local politics that still endures 10 years later.
A Times investigation has found that top sheriff’s officials used the City of Gardena to funnel hundreds of bulletproof vests to Cambodian police.
Sheriff’s media representatives gave The Times differing accounts about the transaction, initially denying any sheriff’s officials were involved in sending the vests to Cambodia, then offering explanations contradicted by records and interviews. The officials involved in the transaction refused to discuss it.
Prompted by The Times’ inquiry, Sheriff Lee Baca recently asked the county auditor-controller’s office to examine the sale, and a sheriff’s spokesman called that review “a complete vindication” that proved the transactions were “above board.” But Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe said in an interview she was only told that the vests were sold to Gardena, not that Gardena was a go-between to get them to Cambodia.
“The word Cambodia didn’t even come up in the conversation,” she said.
It is not unusual for U.S. law enforcement agencies to donate used or obsolete equipment to other departments, including foreign ones. But in this case, the vests were sent through an intermediary and not declared to customs officials, as required by federal law. Instead, they were stuffed inside one of a number of patrol cars that the Sheriff’s Department was shipping directly to Cambodia, avoiding the rigorous vetting process the U.S. government requires to prevent body armor from getting into the wrong hands abroad….
The story continues documenting labyrinthian machinations to get the vests under the radar to the Cambodians.
It ends like this:
[Former Gardena Police Chief] Monson said that after he reported the sales to federal authorities, his relationship with Tanaka and Lansdell became chilly. He eventually left to become police chief in Buena Park, before retiring. He said he still wonders why officials went to such lengths to get ballistic vests to Cambodia.
“The motive for doing this has got to be the big question here,” he said. “It just doesn’t smell right.”
Exactly. What is the motive?
We could be wrong, but it would seem to us that the logical place to look for the reason why Tanaka, and whomever else was working with him in the sheriff’s department, would go to all this trouble to ship the vests to Cambodia on the legal down low via the City of Gardena, where Tanaka is mayor and before that, a city council , would be the cars, for which the vests appear to have been the deal sweetiner.
Could there be anything about the sale of the cars that bears examining?
It is our hope here that Faturechi and Leonard keep digging at this story on which they’ve already done fine reporting work.
SHERIFF’S NEPHEW BEING LOOKED AT FOR INMATE ABUSE
The Times was on a roll this weekend when it came to LASD stories. In addition to shady tales of Cambodian-shipped bullet proof vests, there is this story by Robert Faturechi about the sheriff’s nephew. Here’s a clip:
When Justin Bravo applied to be a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, background investigators noted the young man had some brushes with the law that raised red flags about his past.
Nonetheless, the department hired Bravo as a deputy through a little-known program called “Friends of the Sheriff” — a screening process for applicants with connections to department officials.
Bravo’s link was his uncle: Sheriff Lee Baca.
Now, the jail deputy is the subject of a Sheriff’s Department criminal probe into whether he abused an inmate. The incident, sheriff’s officials say, was caught on tape. Sources say FBI agents investigating the jails are also inquiring about Bravo.
Confidential sheriff’s records indicate that Bravo was hired even though officials had documented his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police, theft and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary.
Following inquiries from The Times, the Sheriff’s Department’s civilian monitoring agency looked at Bravo’s background. The Office of Independent Review’s lead attorney, Michael Gennaco, said in an interview “there is no way he should have been hired.”