LASD The Downfall of Paul Tanaka

The Trial of Paul Tanaka – Part 5: The Former Undersheriff and the Vikings

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon


THE FATE OF THE V-WORD

When the federal trial of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka continued on Monday morning at 8 a.m., at first it appeared that U.S District Court Judge Percy Anderson had nixed any discussion of The Vikings, the notorious deputy gang of which Tanaka was a member.

But then later in the morning, when the jury came back at 10:05 a.m. from its first 15-minute break of the day, everything seemed to have changed.

On Friday, as we noted in our last report, after a week and a half of testimony by the prosecution’s witnesses, Tanaka took the stand in his own defense for nearly three hours, and defense attorney Jerome Haig spent much of the time guiding his client through the process of building a portrait of himself as a man with a stellar career in law enforcement, and a deep sense of morality and ethics.

Then the defendant and his attorneys moved on to dispute the prosecution’s criminal case, claiming that, in those matters, Tanaka was a peripheral player who, at most carried directed others to carry out Lee Baca’s lawful orders having to do with such actions as causing inmate/informant Anthony Brown to vanish from the jails’ computer system and threatening FBI Special Agent Leah Marx with arrest after LASD sergeants accosted her outside her apartment and she declined to answer questions.

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox got up for cross on Friday, he too began with Tanaka’s career and character. But he addressed the part of Tanaka’s career that the defense left carefully out of their chronology, namely the mid-80’s and early 1990’s when the former undersheriff was a sergeant at the Lynwood station, home of the infamous deputy clique, the Vikings.

As we described earlier, however, before Fox got the word Viking fully out of his mouth, the defense objected, and Judge Anderson called a side bar. Then, after hearing verbal arguments from the defense and the prosecution, Anderson told both sides to deliver briefs to him on Sunday, for a decision Monday morning.

Yet, on Monday, after another nearly 20-minute sidebar it appeared that Anderson had decided in the negative. Thus, when Fox took-up cross-examination again, he went in another direction, not back to Lynwood station.

Then, after the break, everything changed one more time. Suddenly, the Vikings were on the table.

Tanaka, who had managed a genial, even humble demeanor in earlier questioning, began to stiffen

The Vikings were not a “clique,” he said. “There was no reference to it as a “clique,”

Fox tried other terms: “Subset of deputies,” deputy “group.”

Tanaka tersely rejected each. No, you didn’t have to be invited into the group, he said. In fact, “there was not a group.”

“Were there requirements” for membership? asked Fox.

“No,” Tanaka said.

“When were you invited into the group?”

There was no inviting, said Tanaka. “The mascot of the station was the Lynwood Vikings. The Vikings were like the mascot of an intermural sports team, he said.

Fox shifted gears. Well was Mr. Tanaka “aware of a finding in a 1991 civil lawsuit that found the Vikings to be a deputy gang?

“I’ve never looked at the lawsuit. I wasn’t part of it.”

Fox asked if Tanaka was aware that the judge found the Vikings to have engaged in widespread civil rights violations and “other acts of lawlessness?”

(It should be noted that violations are listed in vivid detail in the complaint.)

Many of those named were deputies that Tanaka supervised when he was a Sergeant at Lynwood, Fox said.

(Greg Thompson, who is one of the nine other department members who have been either already convicted of obstruction of justice, or taken a deal, was named several times in the 1991 lawsuit, although Fox didn’t point that out.)

The back and forth continued, with Tanaka denying that the Vikings were any sort of membership organization, and Fox advancing evidence that they were a membership organization with a shadow-fraught history.

And then Fox brought up the Viking tattoo.

“At the time that I received that tattoo,” said Tanaka, his voice turning brittle, “nothing in the Vikings was evil.

“I was not a Viking in the way you’re trying to infer,” he said. “There was nothing sinister about it when I got the tattoo.”

So did he have it still? “As you sit here today, you have that tattoo,” said Fox. It was a statement, not a question.

Tanaka’s expression grew dark as he seemed to struggle to control fury.

“I have the tattoo, sir.”


“IT COULD HAVE BEEN A COINCIDENCE”

Eventually, the cross examination returned to the matter of Anthony Brown and other topics related to the charges against Tanaka. The prosecutor continued to hammer Tanaka with facts that made it difficult for him to continue to claim non involvement, naming times that the former undersheriff was briefed, describing a meeting he had in a parking lot with an undercover deputy who was reportedly going to pose as an inmate in the cell next to Brown to try to get Brown to talk about his FBI relationships.

“I don’t know why I was there,” Tanaka said of the parking lot meeting. “It could have been a coincidence. I probably just told the deputy to be careful,” Tanaka said of his talk with the undercover officer.

In answer to other questions, he frequently said he didn’t recall.

Perhaps the most oddly effective series of questions during the prosecution’s cross examination came when Fox showed Tanaka page after individual page of lists of phone calls made during the main days of the Anthony Brown/alleged FBI obstruction period from August 18, 2011, to September 26, 2011.

There are many calls to and from Tanaka to the main players, people like then Captain Tom Carey, and former lieutenants Steve Leavins and Greg Thompson. On each page, Tanaka is urged to search to see if there are any calls to or from former sheriff Lee Baca.

Out of all the pages, Tanaka only finds one call. He says that Baca often made calls from the car, which sometimes meant that his driver would make the call from his own county issued cell phone, and hand the phone to the boss. It is a legitimate point, but likely not enough to counteract the pages of other calls.

Eventually Tanaka steps down from the stand, and various witnesses for the defense like Chuck Antuna, Ed Medrano, the Chief of the Gardena Police Department, a woman who is a Gardena activist, and a newish deputy sheriff who had been fired from the Gardena PD, whom Tanaka help get hired at the LASD.

All of the witnesses describe Paul Tanaka as an exceptionally honest and warm person.

Former U.S. Attorney, now federal judge Andre Birotte is called to give his version of a meeting between Baca, Tanaka, and other LASD members, and Birotte and a cluster from the U. S. Attorney’s office, where Baca complains about the way the FBI’s undercover investigation was handled.

The way he viewed the meeting said Judge Birotte, “This was [Baca’s] opportunity to express his displeasure. He was letting us know he didn’t like it.”

By the end of Birotte’s testimony he seems to have helped the prosecution more than the defense.


CLOSING ARGUMENTS AHEAD

So did Tanaka’s testimony primarily help or harm? Did he damage the prosecution’s case, or his own?

We’ll know soon enough.

On Tuesday the defense has two more witnesses: Paul Yoshinaga and Kevin Hebert.

The prosecution will call two rebuttal witnesses. Then closing arguments….and the case will go to the jury.

32 Comments

  • Wow! Didn’t Dennis Slocomb start the Vi-Kings? And where is Slocomb today? Many years ago didn’t the LAT run an article that to be a Viking that one must commit an act of violence against the community they swore to serve? Didn’t the Vikings spray paint Viking graffiti on walls in Lynwood?
    Do the defense wits also have tattoos? Didn’t other prior major execs also have tattoos?
    With a gang clique here and a gang clique there, everywhere a gang clique. Oh McDonnell have a gang e-i-e-i-o
    Just asking questions

  • I’m bringing up the following because I know I am among MANY that have suffered from the corruption of Paul Tanaka and friends. My ex-husband never spoke about his involvement in the 1991 civil suit. He ran with and was protected by the Tanaka clan. My ex was placed in a task force that was set up by PT.
    A domestic violence investigation was originally opened on him in 2011 and the investigators in ICIB let the statute run out. He was abusive again in 2014 and the investigation was re-opened. There were several people in ICIB, IA and Headquarters who knew about it. Some I knew were friends of Paul Tanaka. My ex had his weapons confiscated, was ROD for a short time and put back to work, even though a handwritten confession letter was sitting in his file. Unfortunately, I had no other choice than to go agencies OUTSIDE the Sheriff Dept to get the investigation worked on. This investigation was finalized in August 2015. I received a letter stating he was found in violation of Dept policy and would be subject to discipline.
    Sheriff McDonell, this was going on under your watch too. Corruption in LASD and especially its investigative units should not be tolerated!
    Needless to say, I won’t be disappointed PT is found guilty.

  • Snitch Tom Carey will be a prosecution rebuttal witness. Too bad he didn’t have the guts earlier to tell the truth and prevent the Deps from going to prison.

  • What is most galling about Baca and Tanaka’s actions is the discipline meted out at the same time by their syphocants. Baca’s beloved “Core Values” were slapped on the table in every Chief’s hearing while, literally, the administration was engaging in acts that were so beyond the pale they, well, they were criminal.

  • In regard to the “V” subject on cross examination of Tanaka. I worked patrol at Lynwood during the 80’s and wittnessed that BS first hand. Tanaka on the stand,under oath stating the Vikings were a sports group at the station was an outright lie and everyone part of that A-hole good old boys club know that. Most of them didn’t know the difference between a sport ball and a butt ball. Those knuckleheads( many are still executives on the department, i.e. Robbery/Homicide) didn’t invent the abuse, it was tolerated and sugarcoated by the upper brass. This was evidenced by then Chief Jerry Harper whose “Viking” tattoo was exposed in court papers. If you roll down the socks of several stars & bar recipients in upper management positions,you will find that neo-nazi tattoo being proudly”HIDDEN”.

  • BOLO
    Ithaca Boomer
    MW/40
    6’0/210 Bro/Bro
    Subject is previously known to visit internet websites discussing the LASD. Reportedly last seen washing Paul Tanaka’s personal vehicle the day before the election in 2014. .
    If anyone has any info. on the whereabouts of subject please advise LASD Deputy Dulce. at 1-(800) IT’S -OVER.

  • Most people realize that Tom Carey was only a figure head, just like everyone else. Even if Tom stepped up to save the deputies, (which he has done) there would have been someone else to do PT’s bidding. There was a problem with the chain of command, and for years people were aware of what was required to promote. The only thing Tom did was answer the call from Tanaka. He should have refused the transfer. Granted he would have retired as a Lieutenant. When you think about this entire situation, no one person ever thought that they would get convicted of any crime. Tanaka was setting himself up for sheriff and no one person was going to stop him. Everyone is very familiar of the consequences when a person gets in tanaka’s way. Now people have to live with their choices. The departments reputation is in the toilet and plenty of people to blame.

  • Really, I agree with everything you said, too bad Carey traded his dignity for another bar. Someone else would have taken his spot, but at least he would have been able to look himself in the mirror knowing he did the right thing.

  • The defense choosing to throw in the witnesses race was/is offensive. Wow. They are digging deep. They should have used “if the glove doesn’t fit you must acquit”.

  • Yep “really”, you are right on. It is very sad to see our Department dragged through all of this. Although I dislike Tanaka as much as the anyone, I hate seeing what it has done to LASD. It bothers me that the Sheriff has come in and refused to clean house too, but when you look at the batting order you have to wonder who he really has to move into the right places. Unfortuanately for him, he continues to listen to the wrong people, as is obvious by many of his promotions. From the Custody Chief who claimed to be a Viking (but was smart enough not to get a tat) to the tatooed clad Viking Captains, Big Jim has his work cut out for him, I just wish he would get out off the 8th floor and look around. There really are hard workers out there. Oh and please stop listening to your drivers, they too have their own agendas.

  • #13 Your attitude is a perfect example of why the LASD is such a huge mess. I guess you stand for cover ups, dishonesty and corruption. I’m not a woman scorned, I am a woman who fights for what she believes in. No one is above the law, especially a law enforcement officer. That is what I believed as a deputy and what I still believe. Regulator…of what exactly?

  • I’m sure Celeste would have removed #13, it obviously slipped through. #2, I care. #13, Domestic Violence isn’t ok. I certainly hope your not a law enforcement officer. Scary thing is, you very well could be. And if you are, thankfully Tanaka doesn’t have the ability to “take care” of you anymore.

  • @15 Regulator probably doesn’t understand abuse because an abuser thinks he is always right!!
    @Celeste why aren’t more of the already convicted deputies called to testify?

  • EDITOR’S NOTE:

    I missed Number 13. Thanks for the heads up.

    And let’s be done with the You’re Regulator/No YOU”RE a Regulator/No I’M a Regulator and proud of it! Etc. part of the thread. The personal attacks are getting out of hand and repetitive.

    Thanks for your cooperation.

    C.

  • Good call Celeste, the deputies with clique tattoos believed they were exempt of the rules and the law during the Tanaka era. This attitude is what lead to Pandora’s Box. Very little has changed since the new Sheriif took office.

  • #15, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t any alleged DV fueled by your indescetions? That doesn’t excuse the abuse. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Yikes. You know better than to start down these roads.]

  • #15 Love how this has now become about me. If you are truly “In The Know” you would know about his indescretions. I’ve never lied about anything I have done…I know I am far from perfect..can he say the same?! Thank you for at least stating it doesn’t excuse the abuse. Let’s stop making this about me now…maybe the focus should be on all the department members involved in trying to sweep this under the rug.

  • @2, I am thinking of going outside the Dept also. I have something that could really get alot in big trouble, don’t trust the IA to do the right thing in investigating their own. They are all scandalous and dishonest.

  • Oops, correction, last comment on #23 was actually in response to #21 (and 22). Also, you don’t know what I have gone through. No one knows but me and my ex. I never lied in a police report.

  • This is my last comment because I don’t even need to defend myself here. It’s nice that you are trying to be a loyal friend to my ex. He has many friends on the dept, so did Paul Tanaka.

    Obviously, the department has a long, long way to go.

    Good luck

  • Cpt28: Current law allows for any public employee to receive retirement benefits earned prior to any criminal activity. He will basically receive his full pension.

  • A few years ago when all this pandora box none sense broke out I thought Tanaka had it coming. I did not like what was going on the department, specially the sergeant exam cheating. I missed on promotion because of that, and therefore i am still a patrol deputy. But now i miss Tanaka handling of the department. Now you have Deputy haters, Deputies who promoted to higher ranks screwing other deputies for none sense. There are stations in need of leadership, commanders empowered to get rid of mediocre captains, Captains empowered to get rid of Lieutenants, and sergeants who are deputy heaters. Industry station has a Lieutenant, Day shift watch commander to be exact, who needs to be demoted to a Deputy, and be ordered to handle SCAR reports….by the way Tanaka hated this specific lieutenant….and yet, he is still manages to make IDT personnel miserable on a daily basis…he is fighting a current IAB investigation for POE violations, yet he is still there, go figure….

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