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Deputy says he wore wire for FBI in probe of L.A. County Sheriff's Dept.

Edwin Tamayo says the agency asked him to record a captain as part of an investigation of alleged improper fundraising for Carmen Trutanich.

May 31, 2013|By Robert Faturechi, Jack Leonard and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy wore a wire for the FBI last month, secretly recording a department supervisor as part of an investigation into allegations of improper fundraising, the deputy and his attorneys said.

Deputy Edwin Tamayo told The Times that FBI agents asked him to wear the wire after he told them that a captain gathered him and other subordinates at a patrol station barbecue pit and ordered them to sell tickets to a 2011 fundraiser for Carmen Trutanich's unsuccessful bid for district attorney. He declined to say which department supervisor he recorded.

While federal authorities have used wires in investigations of law enforcement agencies before, this is the first indication that the bureau has used the tactic as part of its expansive probe of the Sheriff's Department.

Tamayo, a 12-year department veteran who is now on leave, came forward after facing criminal allegations of his own. He said he was accused of fixing a traffic ticket for a bribe. He denies the allegation but declined to say if he ever did other official favors for residents in his affluent patrol area.

Tamayo said he told federal agents that the captain instructed about a dozen sheriff's employees to sell 10 fundraiser tickets each, saying the order came down through the chain of command from Sheriff Lee Baca — an allegation his spokesman denied. It is unclear what specific law such conduct might violate.

Tamayo provided The Times with a text message exchange he said he had with an FBI agent during the secret recording. The messages show Tamayo being coached on how to use his recording equipment and what to say.

In one text, Tamayo is instructed to mention Trutanich and to bring up "the difference between the truth and staying loyal." Do so "at your own pace," he was advised.

"You're doing fine.... End well so you can stay in touch," the messages continue. "OK when you have a chance turn everything off, we'll meet you at ihop."

The Times was not able to corroborate Tamayo's allegations. For example, of the 10 individuals he said he sold fundraising tickets to, the names of only three could be found on Trutanich's donor rolls. Asked about the lack of documentation, Tamayo said many of those who gave did not want their names on the donor list. One of those not on the rolls told The Times that though he had donated and volunteered for the Sheriff's Department before, he did not recall giving in this instance and did not remember meeting Tamayo.

The captain whom Tamayo accused of misconduct declined to comment, referring questions to his attorney, who did not return calls.

It's unclear what the FBI's interest level is in the improper political fundraising allegation. The FBI has been investigating the sheriff's jails since at least 2011. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

Two other deputies told The Times that they too were asked by the FBI to wear a wire. One said he was asked to record meetings he had scheduled inside department headquarters with high-ranking sheriff's officials, but ultimately the request was withdrawn. The other said he refused requests to record a department supervisor. The deputies asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak to the media about the ongoing federal probe.

Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said any claim that Baca ordered sheriff's employees to raise money for the Trutanich event was "absurd."

"The sheriff," he said, "has never pressured or ordered anybody to engage in fundraising."

Baca has been an active campaigner for politicians across the county for years. His endorsement of Trutanich for district attorney drew criticism last year after he appeared in uniform in an Internet campaign ad — a violation of state law. The video was quickly edited to remove Baca's image, after inquiries from The Times.

Tamayo said he knew of nothing to suggest that Trutanich was aware of any order to employees to sell fundraiser tickets. Representatives of Trutanich did not respond to requests for comment.

Paul Tanaka, whom Baca recently ousted as the department's second in command, contends that the sheriff has engaged in improper campaigning in the past. He said that in about 2004, when Baca was campaigning for a sales tax increase to fund law enforcement, he ordered former Undersheriff Larry Waldie to go to tow companies that had sheriff's contracts and pressure them to donate.

"I don't remember the exact words but something to the effect of 'We make them a lot of money because of the tow contracts with us so they should contribute to this campaign,'" said Tanaka, who is considering running against Baca next year. Tanaka, who has himself been criticized for accepting political donations from sheriff's employees, called Baca's request improper: "The tow companies are not obligated to part with their hard-earned money."

Whitmore denied that Baca gave such an order. Reached by phone, Waldie declined to comment.

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