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Former Contra Costa County Sheriff's Deputy Sentenced to Prison

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Stephen Tanabe to 15 months in prison

Stephen Tanabe Patch Photo Archive
Stephen Tanabe Patch Photo Archive
By Bay City News—

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.

[Related article: Jury Convicts Ex-Danville Cop in 'Dirty DUI' Case]

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.

[Related article: Tanabe Pleads Not Guilty to Federal Charges]

"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 a mistake. 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.

Copyright © 2014 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.
Christine Terry February 21, 2014 at 05:00 PM
Dirty cops, him and the other pigs just got caught. You cant trust anyone. I think he should do way more time. Put those dirty cops in prison with the boys, let them make REAL men outta them. I do not feel they should get protective custody. Cops should have to do double the time for a crime.
Ed Bland February 22, 2014 at 12:41 AM
It took me getting brain damage so bad that it killed me 3 times and am just now realizing I am very intelligent ! "WAKE-UP" ! I had someone at PCHgames call me an "IDIOT" because I said copper formed GOLD ! THE "USA" COULD BE DEBT FREE ! THE WORLD CAN BE HEALED ! NOW THAT I REACHED 50, DIED 3 TIMES........ HUMANS NEED TO WAKE UP AND HOPE IT DOES NOT TAKE WHAT IT TOOK ME ! When I died I was judged ! THAT IS WHY "HE" RETURNED ME ! I am NOT going to try to lay claim to what "GOD" did ! Just because I figured out how GOLD was formed does not give me that right. I only know this because "HE" informed me in "meditation" ! It is this simple, long ago there was a meteor shower that lasted so long and darkened the sky. That killed the DINOES off. The "NON-MAGNETIC" METEORITES WHEN THEY MAKE CONTACT WITH MOLTEN "COPPER" MAKES GOLD ! The volcanoes made the copper molten. There is a molecular change that takes place and can explode if you don't know what you are doing. I know this because I have made some, had it explode and burn me. ~ The only reason I know all this is because THC healed my brain damage enough to become "GOD'S ALCHEMIST" ! ~ THERE IS AN IDIOT BUT I ONLY HAVE BRAIN DAMAGE !
Glenn McBride February 25, 2014 at 02:17 AM
Ok everyone reading this, pay attention. This is what cops do all day, every day. This is what lawyers do all day, every day. I suspect the only reason this case came to light is one incredibly rare person inside the system blew the whistle.
Ajedrez411 March 06, 2014 at 07:41 PM
I agree with Glenn McBride 1000%. California is so corrupt and they watch every civilian in the private sector...this guy blew his $70,000 a year salary (that's with out a master degree) and a whopping $80,000 pension (where do you think your taxes go, exactly?). Used to be Police did their jobs with integrity...now they just cross collaborate with criminals and varied municipality divisions such as the EDD, Department of Labor, Board of Equalization and work to fine business owners in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, tag on hundreds of thousands of dollars in exorbitant parking fines, and they get to use their connections within the government to protect their lavish lifestyles while garnishing as much as they can for their retirement fund. The most impressive trait of California state government is that they could care less about FEDERAL LAWS..hence why cannabis is quasi-illegal...on the state level and illegal on the Federal level...but certain advocates ....the Masons of society...I'll call them....have deep connections on both playing fields...SAD. We are the sheep...they are the herders....http://www.caltax.org/research/calrank.html

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