A former Danville police officer, charged along with a private investigator friend with drug sales and conspiracy and participating in so-called "dirty DUI" cases, did nothing criminal, his attorney said Thursday.
Stephen Tanabe just put too much trust in his friend Christopher Butler, a Concord private eye known for seeking media attention to showcase his practice of hiring pretty women to help him track down cheating spouses, said attorney Daniel Russo.
"It's made him sick how he's been caught up in the web of it," Russo said outside the Walnut Creek Superior Court, where the case is being heard.
A few minutes earlier, Tanabe, a 47-year-old Alamo resident, stood with his co-defendants, Butler and Norman Wielsch, the former commander of the Central Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team.
Tanabe pleaded not guilty to charges of possessing, transporting and selling a controlled substance and to several counts involving his role in what the District Attorney's Office called a "criminal" scheme to help Butler set up men involved in contentious divorce cases to be arrested for drunken driving.
Butler and Wielsch, both 49, also pleaded not guilty to new drug charges that prosecutors added earlier this month to the original 28-count complaint. The original complaint charged them with conspiracy; selling methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids; and possessing methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids for sale. They are accused of selling drugs taken from CNET seizures and the county evidence room.
The new charges implicate Tanabe in Butler and Wielsch's alleged drug deals. The charges allege that Butler received steroids from Wielsch and gave samples and a price list to Tanabe. Tanabe then told an unnamed person that he or she could buy steroids from Butler, the charges claim.
"If my client is to be faulted for anything, it is not seeing that Butler was out there," Russo said. Tanabe's life is ruined, Russo said. While Tanabe is free on $260,000 bail, he is out of work because he , which provides contract services to Danville police. "He's already paid a penalty for associating with this person."
All three men worked at the Antioch Police Department. Tanabe worked there from 1995 to 1997 after moving to the Bay Area from Honolulu, where he had been a police officer, according to court records. Butler and Wielsch worked in Antioch until the late 1990s. Butler left to work as a private investigator and started his own firm in 2002. Wielsch worked with the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement for 12 years and commanded the task force that works with area police departments and is responsible for investigating mid- and high-level drug operations.
Russo said Tanabe and Butler were friends but not close friends.
Tanabe is charged with participating in two DUI setups with Butler in which Butler hired attractive women to lure men to bars and get them drunk. He would then call Tanabe and have the men arrested for drunken driving as they were leaving, according to the complaint. Prosecutors say he took a bribe as part of the scheme, but Russo denied that his client took any money from Butler.
Russo added that there was probable cause to stop and arrest the men for drunken driving because the men were seen driving in an unsafe way. He didn't just rely on a tip from someone inside the bar. Russo likened these cases to a bartender calling police to say an intoxicated patron has just left his establishment and climbed behind the wheel of a car.
"I think that when all the wash comes out it's going to be shown that Mr. Tanabe did nothing in violation of the law in relation to Mr. Butler and Mr. Wielsch."