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LASD NEWS: Problematic Baca Nephews & Mysterious Cambodian Vests

February 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


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.


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.”

Read on.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

14 Responses

  1. Mountain Man Says:

    Paul: go to LACERA (Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association), sign the papers and go home. It is time for the Department to heal.

    Think this through. As a politician, your future is nonexistent. That means Gardena City Council AND any potential of running for Sheriff.

  2. 10-29Henry Says:

    In law enforcement, ignorance of the law is not considered an excuse when we evaluate making an arrest (at least, when the common citizen is concerned, clearly there’s a continuing double standard being enforced). When the radio cars were declared through ICE and all the appropriate paperwork was filed, WHY weren’t the vests submitted through the same process? This is an incomplete story. There’s more to it, and those of us in the know, well, we know this.

    I wonder how long it will take the apologists to get on here and attribute this caper to “disgruntled” LASD retirees and those who didn’t get promoted…

    I also wonder how long it will take said apologists to realize that there is actually constant corrupt activity continuing on the 4th floor.

  3. Watching it all from the 4th floor Says:

    The FBI has been all over this for quite a while now. I was quite surprised to see this story in the Times. They did a great job on the story but there is sooooooooo much more to this little conspiracy than has been reported. This will be resolved by the Federal Grand Jury. One must wonder what role IAB has/will play in all of this, did they know, did they investigate, did they cover-up and if so, how high in the management ranks did the cover-up go? Obstruction of Justice? Oh this caper is going to be good, very good once the fat lady sings.

    The Feds are taking ALL of these allegations piecemeal to the Grand Jury for their consideration. And the Feds are taking their time doing a very thorough investigation regarding the executive ranks (active and retired) of LASD. I will just leave it at that, but this I know, FTF.


    4th floor, thanks for using my moniker at the closing of your statement. You have alot of good insight as well 10-29h.

    I was perusing other posts and read about chester chong and his antics. Didn’t know he was a commander. wow. Is he a level 1 reserve? where did he do all his training being such a busy export guru?

    Apparently his name pops up as a coordinator and liason for bigwig trips to china. supposedly, he sets the brass up with some really special tours, back seen stuff the public doesn’t ever see.

    So I guess you’re right. When the feds do make their case, Mister Chong will be deposed as a “middleman”. Believe me, when he was interviewed, that statement was not on his own. I suspect he was told to say that cuz the top boys are much harder to touch.

  5. Bandwagon Says:

    Re: 4th Floor

    I hope you are right and are privy to information the rest of us are not. It has been my experience with IAB, the result of any “high profile” investigation will be what is dictated from the fourth floor. Perhaps with your insight you can comment on the politics involved within the Internal Affairs Bureau. Please continue to keep us in the loop!

  6. 10-29Henry Says:

    I find myself rooting for Celeste and Robert Faturechi to just go baby go.

    I wonder if anyone in the 4th estate could get their claws into the findings of a former Majors detail that no longer exists, the breath forced out of it because of money trails they followed?

    Keep up the pressure journo’s! Lord knows ICIB and IAB aren’t capable or willing.


    Now that Dorner has cowardly gone to hell, I was pondering this earlier. I have and continue to know law enforcement officers who have done tours of duty, some several times. We used to laugh because some were flat out dings in their behavior and found it humerous.

    After today’s events, I propose my thoughts: Time of active war is a 24/7 stress on a person. Watching their best friends killed, maimed and whatever comes their way is a permanent imprint in their brains. This is a mental changing event that effects a person for life. My question is this: Are ex military the most stable suit for law enforcement? If selected for hire, should those individuals go through a lengthy battery of psycholigical testing above the standard MMPI for suitable employment.

    Law enforcement is not always as intense as wartime, but it is a personality changer. For those of you who have 20 or more years on, ask youself an honest question: Are you the same person you were the day before you were hired? How many people do you call assholes now, are you more jaded, but defend it as being realistic? I think we can all say our personalities have changed, and not always in the most positive manner. I respect those who have served, but we owe it to law enforcements image and ourselves to make sure people like Dorner don’t fall through the cracks.

  8. Coyote Waits Says:

    FTF, Dorner didn’t just fall through the cracks. LAPD recruits are hired by LA City Personnel. LAPD often is overruled in rejecting a candidate because he or she fills a desired quota. It happened in Rampart where gangsters were hired and it happened again with Dorner. He had a history of violent outbursts, and judging by his size (6 ft, 270 lbs, and no fat), temperment, former football history, and narsism, I’d say he fits the profile of someone on steroids.
    The LASD seems to have fallen into the same morass. Background investigators are told to let people slide in, because they fufill a Bouman requirement quota or because they are related to someone in the car. And this is the end result.
    Yes, I agree that war and police work both are huge changers of your outlook on life. They force you out of your protected shell and make you see things, not as you want them to be, but as they are. Some people can handle it, many cannot. I think that Dorner could not. I have seen cases of trainees, falling behind in their progress, blaming their issues on their TO, the Academy, or their partners. Most of them eventually quit, because LASD doesn’t just hire you, they adopt you, and it’s almost impossible to fire you. Don’t be surprised to find out that Dorner had an extensive history of problems with the LAPD, and the force incident in the papers was just the tip of the iceburg.
    That being said, I mourn for the loss of life that this smack-talking fool caused. And I honor those Deputies and Officers that rushed to the firefight and brought him down. The Fish and Wildlife Officers went way beyond the call of duty in pursuing him and should be commended. Thank you, brothers and sisters, for the job you do every day. You attempt to live by a code that few others can match, and you do it very well.


    Very well said Coyote, thank you. I quit going to funerals, it just got too hard for me. Today, another is laid to rest and in a week we will see another. There is no other honor I would trade than to be a cop. That’s the decision i made and won’t look back

  10. Justice Says:

    RE: Coyote

    With the obvious corruption at the top level not only in LASD but in LAPD, do you think any unreleased reports about Dorner can be trusted. If there was an extensive history of problems why weren’t they already released? If is in LAPD’s best interest to say he had numerous problems to show that they “did nothing wrong”.

    By no means is Dorner justified in his methods (he went against everything we stand for), but he is only one of many, not just in LAPD but in all other departments. There are many others who were put in the very same position but go unheard. One has to wonder where the justice, fairness, or oversight is when Tanaka, Baca, and even his nephew are still on the department yet many others are fired without a second thought over “performance of standards”. According to the standard they have set those fired did exemplary.

  11. Coyote Waits Says:

    Justice, if you are on one of these Departments, you know as well as I do how insanely difficult it is to fire someone. Like I said, we don’t hire people, we adopt them. Whatever the media is seeing is just the small tip of the iceberg as far a Dorner’s issues go. If he was bad enough to get fired, he was really bad. As you know, the POBR blocks a LOT of information from going public, as do Civil Service rules.
    And yup, you can do great work and not get a thing, or you can make your boss happy and get away with murder (just ask Paul!).


    So, one officer is laid to rest, and the media can’t wait, even before laying to rest a deputy how “hot gas” was deployed as if they intentionally wanted to kill stupid.

    This only happens in america, but more prevelant in California. I don’t know why they didn’t use a secure digitized frequency to keep these less than 6 figure a year media clowns from listening to their tactics.

    If they had RPG capability, they should have used that as well. Keep in mind, before the fire cooked he took his life . he could have walked out of a burning building, but he chose to be a coward.

    Let’s focus on the real victims, and the scars that will be engrained forever. Dorner has no sympathy coming his way.

    This is probably to jaded for the sensitive readers and monitors, so I anticipate it being read by one and deleted for all.

  13. Answering The Question Says:

    Hmmmm. Let’s see now. If a SWAT team would have entered the house, Dorner would have an option. He could have surrendered or he could die.
    If the SWAT team fired in hot gas and the house caught on fire, Dorner had an option. He could have surrendered or he could die.

    The difference? Some people would have preferred to see more cops be placed in harms way by entering the house.

    Dorner chose to die. It was his call. Not the cops.


    ATQ, you couldn’t be more right on with your analogyy. thank you

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