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Ousted top aide to challenge Sheriff Lee Baca

August 14, 2013|By Robert Faturechi and Seema Mehta
  • Paul Tanaka, the former Los Angeles County undersheriff, said he was made a scapegoat for the agency's problems when working there.
Paul Tanaka, the former Los Angeles County undersheriff, said he was made… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Paul Tanaka, the controversial former Los Angeles County undersheriff, is expected to announce Thursday that he’s going to challenge his old boss in next year’s election, according to a source close to Tanaka.

He is scheduled to make an announcement “regarding the upcoming election for Los Angeles County sheriff” Thursday morning in Griffith Park. The source close to Tanaka, who asked to remain anonymous before the official announcement, said that the morning press conference will coincide with Tanaka's filing of his election paperwork.

Another former sheriff's supervisor also announced an intent to run Wednesday. Two other candidates have already declared their candidacy.

A source close to Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said the former LAPD senior lead officer has been approached about running against Sheriff Lee Baca and has not made a decision.

"This, in a way, is a blessing because it’s going to crystallize the sheriff’s record," said Steve Whitmore, Baca's spokesman. "He’s been doing the job every day, day in and day out."

Amid the department’s jails scandal, Tanaka was accused of fostering a culture of abuse. Several current and former sheriff's officials publicly singled out Tanaka for creating a climate in which aggression was prized, loyalty was placed above merit and discipline discouraged.

But Tanaka has said he was been made a scapegoat for many of the agency's problems, targeted by sheriff's officials who were upset that he was holding lazy supervisors accountable. Earlier this year, after being ousted by Baca, Tanaka publicly blasted his old boss, calling him a confused and erratic leader who cares more about politics than public safety. He told The Times that Baca pushed subordinates to hire his friends and relatives and undermined public safety to settle political spats.

For example, Tanaka said Baca demanded that all sheriff's deputies be removed from joint crime-fighting operations with the FBI as payback for a federal investigation of the jails — an order Tanaka said he refused to carry out.

For years, Tanaka was one of Baca's most trusted advisers, rising in the ranks to run day-to-day operations as Baca's second-in-command. But his reputation was tarnished by allegations that he fostered jailhouse misconduct, traded promotions for political donations and played a role in shipping sheriff’s ballistic vests to Cambodia through the city of Gardena, where he is now mayor.

A federal grand jury has also looked into whether Tanaka played a role in allegedly hiding an inmate who was found to be secretly collecting information on abusive and corrupt jail deputies for the FBI.

Tanaka has said his role in those scandals was minimal or non-existent. He has described himself as the voice of reason within the department. He said he and others kept the department running while Baca paid little attention to the agency and took numerous international trips that brought little benefit to Los Angeles County.

Baca, he said, would boast about how "he gets to see the world without paying anything."

Whitmore disputed Tanaka's characterizations of Baca. 

"It’s just blatantly not true," he said. "We have a disgruntled ex-employee who’s throwing bombs ... the sheriff is not going to return fire."

Word of Tanaka’s expected announcement comes the same day that another former sheriff’s official announced he was going to challenge Baca. Bob Olmsted, a retired commander who played a role in exposing abuses inside the agency’s jails, promised to clean up a department that he says has been beset by mismanagement and cronyism by Baca and Tanaka.

Also running against Baca are Lou Vince, an LAPD detective, and Patrick Gomez, a retired sheriff's lieutenant who has run two failed campaigns.

Baca has been sheriff for about 15 years.

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Twitter: RobertFaturechi

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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