Third arrest in Contra Costa Co. narc team scandal

March 6, 2011 6:26:00 PM PST
New allegations are surfacing after the arrest of yet another officer linked to the Contra Costa County narcotics team scandal.

The investigation now claims that female decoys were used to trap men, a private investigator plotted it all, and a police officer was on the take. 47-year-old Stephen Tanabe of Alamo was contracted by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department to work patrol in Danville. He is now in a Martinez jail on $260,000 bail.

A popular Danville wine bar was one of the locations where decoys, usually attractive women, plied unsuspecting men with liquor. Almost as soon as they left the parking lot, they were reportedly stopped and arrested for driving drunk by Contra Costa Sheriff's Deputy Stephen Tanabe.

It was part of a scheme to tarnish of the images of the men who were going through messy divorce proceedings. Anonymous law enforcement sources told the San Francisco Chronicle that Tanabe was hired by private investigator Christopher Butler to make the DUI arrests. Butler was hired by the ex-wives. It is all tied to the same Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team (CNET) scandal that landed Butler and the former commander of the team, Norman Wielsch, in jail.

"The silver lining is that it has a huge deterrent value and that cops are just not going to do this if they think they can be arrested and thrown in jail," says UC Hastings criminal law professor Rory Little. "It's no fun by the way to be a cop in jail."

Tanabe, Butler and Wielsch all worked as Antioch police officers in the late 90s. Tanabe was arrested Friday. He faces charges of weapons possession and conspiracy to possess and sell drugs. Butler and Wielsch pleaded not guilty in the CNET case in which they are accused of stealing drugs from evidence and selling them.

"Whatever the far-reaching effects of the private investigation company had, my client's not involved with all of that. There are certain things he was involved with, but not everything," says defense attorney Michael Cardoza who represents Wielsch.

Private investigator Mike Spencer occasionally referred cases to Butler because of his ability to work with video technology. The allegations shocked Spencer. He says the use of decoys in the P.I. industry is frowned upon.

"It's rare in the business because it's that whole thing, if it makes you feel weird in your gut, or if it would wind up in court, it's sort of a questionable method," he says.

Little says if the allegations against Tanabe and Butler prove true, the DUI cases against the men involved could be dismissed.

"You've got a bribery. You've got a conspiracy. You've got a fraud. It sounds fraudulent to me that they set up these decoys," he says.

Tanabe has been put on paid leave and a Contra Costa County's sheriff called Tanabe's arrest a "sad day" for the department. There are, reportedly, as many as four other officers from various Bay Area police agencies who are now being investigated for their ties to Butler.


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