Former Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy Sentenced to One Year, Three Months for Role in Dirty DUI Stings

February 19, 2014 18:03 pm · 29 comments

A former Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy convicted of aiding in the drunken driving arrests of three men who were set up by a private investigator was sentenced in federal court in San Francisco today to a year and three months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer told Stephen Tanabe, “Your decision to embark on this process was so outside the scope of what would be viewed as professional responsibility that it should have been an alarm.

“This was a case where what this officer did that was wrong was basically negotiating and receiving money or property to do his job, which he did. But he did so with the knowledge that the circumstances of the offenses were initiated by others,” Breyer said.

Tanabe, 50, of Alamo, was convicted by a jury in Breyer’s court last year of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion related to a scheme by disgraced former investigator Christopher Butler to arrange the driving-under-the-influence arrests of three men in Danville in 2010 and 2011.

The men were husbands of Butler’s female clients in divorce cases and the arrests became known as “dirty DUIs.” According to testimony the trial, attractive women employed by Butler enticed the men to become intoxicated at Danville bars.

After being alerted by Butler, Tanabe arrested two of the targets as they drove away from the bars on Jan. 9 and 14, 2011. In the first arrest on Nov. 2, 2010, Tanabe was off duty and watched with Butler inside a bar as the man became intoxicated and then alerted a fellow officer to arrest the man after he began driving, according to trial testimony.

In two extortion convictions, the jury found Tanabe guilty of receiving an expensive Glock gun from Butler in exchange for making the second and third arrests.

But the jury acquitted him of a third extortion charge that alleged he received cocaine from Butler for the first arrest.

Tanabe was also convicted of three counts of wire fraud for text messages exchanged with Butler in the three incidents, and conspiracy to deprive the public of his honest services.

Tanabe, who did not testify at his trial, told Breyer today that at the time of the arrests, he believed he was carrying out his duty to
protect the public and didn’t think that he was doing anything illegal.

“I justified it in my mind that it was a legitimate arrest of drivers who were intoxicated. In my mind, I was arresting people who were breaking the law in the town in which I worked,” Tanabe said.

He said he thought of the receipt of the gun as a “casual” arrangement and not a payment.

Now, Tanabe said, he realizes “I did something wrong and made amistake. I accepted a Glock gun from Christopher Butler and I made arrests.

“All I ever wanted to do was be a cop and I destroyed that,” he said.

Tanabe said he knew Butler’s employees were observing the targeted men, but said he wasn’t aware of the broader scheme to entice the men to drink too much.

Prosecutor Philip Kearney argued that text messages presented as evidence at the trial showed that there was “active participation and knowledge” of the scheme by Tanabe.

Tanabe’s defense lawyers had asked for a lower sentence of six months in a halfway house plus six months of home confinement, while prosecutors had asked for three and one-half years in prison.

Breyer ordered Tanabe to surrender to begin serving his sentence on April 15. Tanabe will also be on supervised release for three years after he is released and must perform 240 hours of community service during that time.

“Law enforcement officers have enormous power. The police officer in day-to-day law enforcement must have the confidence of people that law enforcement will be even-handed,” Breyer said.

Outside of court, defense attorney Alan Miller said no decision has been made on whether Tanabe will appeal.

Tanabe, Butler and others face three civil lawsuits filed by three men who were arrested. The cases are pending in Breyer’s court and were stayed by the judge last year until Tanabe’s case was completed. An attorney for two of the plaintiffs, Brian Gearinger, said he expects Breyer will now hold a status conference on the cases within the next few weeks.

Butler’s drunken driving stings were part of a larger Contra Costa County corruption scandal in which he and former state narcotics squad chief Norman Wielsch sold drugs Wielsch stole from evidence lockers, arranged phony arrests and extorted money from prostitutes.

Butler also placed hidden eavesdropping devices in the cars of clients’ husbands. Butler pleaded guilty in 2012 to seven charges and received a reduced sentence of eight years in prison in exchange for agreeing to aid prosecutors. He testified at Tanabe’s trial and maintained he paid the officer for the arrests with both cocaine and the Glock gun.

Wielsch separately pleaded guilty to five charges and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Tanabe was charged only in connection with the three Danville arrests.

Lemmy February 19, 2014 at 6:36 PM

It’s good to hear the victims are civilly pursuing Mr. Tanabe. After all of that trouble, what dollar amount could be put on their experiences stemming from the dirty arrest? I assume loss of home, employment, freedom and financial solvability for starters. I hope justice is served!

Jerk February 19, 2014 at 6:51 PM

So what about the man that was pulled over and given a drunk driving charge?
Will it be removed since these Clowns were tampering and doctoring evidence.
Will he be reimbursed for all the fees the state has robbed of him?

Well......... February 19, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Slap on the wrist.I hope he gets cleaned out in the Civil cases

Maria February 19, 2014 at 7:03 PM

This case is very bizarre…..

ANON February 19, 2014 at 7:40 PM

“So what about the man that was pulled over and given a drunk driving charge?”

He was still diving DUI

VikingPrincess February 19, 2014 at 8:06 PM

Yes it is…similar to a movie plot. I’m sure someone will make money on this try crime, either a movie or maybe a book. Quite a mess, as those pulled over were entrapted. Who were these women that enticed these guys and did the bar owners know? Crazy stuff.

Ven Xeter February 19, 2014 at 8:08 PM

15 months for police corruption? This is a crime against all Californians and another example of how the country is deteriorating into a banana republic. This judge should be ashamed.

big hairy knuckle dragger February 19, 2014 at 8:19 PM

Just hope he is in with the general population.

Schmee February 19, 2014 at 8:35 PM

The DUI charges were likely thrown out. That term seems way light but maybe judge knew he was civilly liable. They often take that into account.

What the extra three months means is that tanabe must go to prison. A year or less would mean he could serve in a more cushy jail.

sing that song February 19, 2014 at 8:40 PM


sing that song February 19, 2014 at 8:41 PM

We put everyone else on BLAAST, so whuss up. SHOW THE PUBLIC!! Hes a dirty CRIMINAL

Jerry February 19, 2014 at 8:58 PM

So what happenes to the guy who was DUI? Does he just get a free pass along with a chunk of change?

They say he got a light sentence.. February 19, 2014 at 9:02 PM

They gave him the lightest sentence possible, as the Judge felt that Tanabe didn’t “understand” that what he did was wrong.

Well, he has one year and three months to get an education.

Atticus Thraxx February 19, 2014 at 9:16 PM

” Tweet, tweet, baby. I’m a cop in a cage.”
-Theo Kojak

Ted K., SuperMax February 19, 2014 at 10:26 PM

Public safety official who are convicted of a crime should have their sentence automatically doubled for violating the public trust and their oath of office. Remember, peace officers are SWORN into their position.

Let’s review:

California Constution Article 20, Sec. 3. Misc. Subjects

” I, ___________________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.

“And I do further swear (or affirm) that I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any party or organization, political or other- wise, that now advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means; that within the five years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of any party or organization, political or other-wise, that advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means. I will not advocate nor become (name of office) a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means.”

J. February 19, 2014 at 11:25 PM

Selling your badge for a couple of thousand dollars, a Glock, and a bag of Cocaine should be held to a higher standard. Yes, double the time, don’t halve it.

What did he need the Cocaine for? Damn drug addicts.

Here is a picture of Tanabe:×471.jpg

iam jus saying tho February 19, 2014 at 11:30 PM

Thats our good old justice system from the cops to the d.a. this county has the most corrupt criminals working for them.the coco county sheriff’s are the worst out there.this jus goes to show who is really protecting our community’s and u guys want gun control please

Jess February 19, 2014 at 11:32 PM

I’m disappointed he got such a light sentence. We entrust police officers with extraordinary power over us. When they break that trust, the penalty should be severe.

Anonymous February 20, 2014 at 6:47 AM

Thank you poster 17. I knew a nut case would show up, and you didn’t disappoint.

G February 20, 2014 at 7:12 AM

ThAts not enough time for a dirty cop

Don P - N. Concord February 20, 2014 at 9:31 AM

More proof that cops can get away with anything.

??? February 20, 2014 at 9:33 AM

Connected to the same county ——–>

Antler February 20, 2014 at 9:48 AM

G at #20 ….. I agree.

Broker February 20, 2014 at 3:09 PM

Mr. Tenabe was also and agent with Monte Vista Commercial Real Estate (Now called MVC.) His former employers, Brad Cavanagh and TW Starkweather are still at large.

Zoey February 20, 2014 at 7:27 PM

Some of you people need to step back and think about what you are saying. This guy did the right thing for the wrong reasons. Yeah, he was paid to target specific drunks, but they were still drunk drivers.

No one poured drinks into them and made them drive.

If any other cop arrested three drunk drivers, you would all be applauding.

Candy land February 21, 2014 at 10:54 PM

Must of had a good lawyer don’t you think

Freckles February 22, 2014 at 8:38 AM

@ # 25 – Zoey

Sorry but you are mistaken. There is no evidence to suggest these men were chronic drunk drivers who would have engaged in this behavior anyways. . This cop did all of the WRONG things and for all of the wrong reasons. In fact you could venture to say that these men would not have needed enticing if they were drunken bums anyways.
“No one poured drinks into them and made them drive”

Uhm actually, that is exactly what happened. Well not EXACTLY…but similar…
Somebody did pour them drinks and encourage and persuade them to drive. And not just anybody… a person who was directed by a civil service officer.

No body I know applauds dirty cops.

Freckles February 22, 2014 at 8:43 AM

And so wjhy weren’t the wives of these men included in the conspiracy charges? Didn’t they know Butler was setting their husbands up?

Connie Dobbs February 22, 2014 at 9:21 AM

#28 They have plausible deniabilty since the dirty was being done by their counsel, is my guess. Not allowing your client to be charged with conspiracy is probs Lawyer 101.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: