A federal jury convicted a former deputy sheriff in the Contra Costa County office Tuesday of extortion in a bizarre divorce scam to help ex-wives win legal disputes. Known as the “dirty DUI” case, Stephen Tanabe was accused of conspiring with a former Antioch police officer-turned private investigator to set up men in the midst of divorce cases to be arrested on drunk driving charges in order to help the wives.
Tanabe, 50, of Alamo, was convicted of one count of conspiracy, two counts of extortion and three counts of wire fraud. Tanabe was acquitted on one extortion count that alleged he accepted cocaine to help make a drunken driving arrest.
The police officer, Christopher Butler, was hired by wives and ex-wives engaged in divorce and child custody disputes to arrange “stings” against their spouses. They told Butler the men were likely to drive under the influence of alcohol. Butler used “decoys” to entice the men to bars in downtown Danville, 40 miles east of San Francisco. This was Tanabe’s patrol area.
The men would be encouraged to drink and then arrested when they left the bars by car.
Butler was the government’s key witness against Tanabe and had agreed to testify in exchange for leniency.
One final player facing charges is divorce lawyer Mary Nolan. Prosecutors have accused her of hiring Butler to install listening devices inside the car of a client’s ex-husband.
Butler testified during the trial he was hired by Nolan to conduct the “dirty DUI” sting on one of the men.
Tanabe will be sentenced December 11 by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.
Case: U.S. v. Tanabe, No. CR11-941CRB