In the San Francisco area, an ex-Contra Costa County sheriff is behind bars following a conviction of assisting in the DUI arrest and fines of three men who were targeted by a private detective working for angry ex-wives. Before sentencing the former deputy, Stephen Tanabe, to prison, the judge told the deputy his decision to take part in the scheme was as far outside the “scope” of professionalism as anything he had seen in his years on the bench.
Tanabe, 50, was convicted of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion. The scheme, cooked up by an ex-investigator, Christopher Butler, arranged the DUI apprehension of three men in Danville between 2010 and 2011. The three men were ex, or soon to be ex, husbands of Butler’s female clients in divorce proceedings. According to what was said at the trial, attractive women, paid by Butler, would entice the men at Danville bars.
Butler would then alert Tanabe who would arrest the target as they left the bar. In one of the arrests, Tanabe was off duty and was inside the bar with Butler as they watched a man become intoxicated. When the man prepared to leave the bar, Tanabe called another officer to takedown the man after he began driving.
The extortion conviction was related to an incident where Butler gifted Tanabe with a Glock pistol in payment for making arrests. Wire fraud convictions arose from the text messages Tanabe and Butler exchanged to arrange the set-ups.
Tanabe, who chose not to testify at the advice of his lawyers, told the San Francisco court at his sentencing that he believed he was helping to protect the public. “I don’t see where I did anything illegal,” said Tanabe.
While Tanabe said he knew Butler’s employees were watching the quarry, the former officer claimed to be unaware of the wider plan to use the women to encourage the men to over imbibe. Prosecutor Philip Kearney told the judge that text messages presented at the trial indicated there was “active participation and knowledge” of the plan by Tanabe.
Tanabe’s defense team had asked the judge to sentence Tanabe to six months in a halfway house to be followed by six months of home confinement. Prosecutors had sought a prison stay of over 3 years. Tanabe is to surrender on April 15 to begin his prison sentence and will be on supervised parole for three years following his release from prison. The judge also required Tanabe to perform 240 hours of public service.
Tanabe, Butler and others charged could also face civil lawsuits filed by some of the men arrested. The lawsuits, filed last year, were put on hold by the judge until Tanabe’s outcome could be determined. Now that Tanabe has been sentenced, court observers anticipate the judge allowing the civil cases to proceed. Brian Gearinger, an attorney for one of the men arrested under the scheme, expects the judge will hold a status conference within a few weeks.
Part of a Wider Corruption Scandal in San Francisco
The drunk driving scheme planned by Butler is just a part of a larger San Francisco and Contra Costa County corruption scandal which has been in the news. Former state narcotics squad leader Normal Wielsch was charged with selling drugs which he had stolen from evidence lockers. Wielsch also had arranged for phone arrests and extorting prostitutes.
Pleading guilty in 2012, Butler received a reduced sentence of 8 years in prison in exchange for helping the prosecution. Butler testified during Tanabe’s trial in San Francisco and confessed to paying the officer for the arrests with cocaine, cash and the Glock pistol.
By Jerry Nelson