SAN FRANCISCO -- The fate of an ex-Danville cop who prosecutors say "sold his badge" by accepting bribes to facilitate drunken-driving arrests for a Concord private investigator is in the hands of a federal jury.
"His integrity was for sale; it was for sale for cheap," assistant U.S. Attorney Hartley West told jurors Wednesday at closing arguments in the trial of Stephen Tanabe, a Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputy from late 2006 until his resignation days after his March 2011 arrest. "It was for sale for an eight-ball of cocaine and a handgun."
Tanabe, 50, of Alamo, is charged with seven conspiracy and extortion counts on suspicion of accepting the drugs and a Glock pistol as payment for participating in three of then-private investigator Christopher Butler's "dirty DUI" stings in late 2010 and early 2011. Butler's employees, often attractive women, would entice the estranged spouses of Butler's clients to get drunk at local bars, and Butler would tip off police in hopes that the targets would get a DUI that his clients could use as leverage in divorce and child-custody proceedings.
Authorities started investigating the stings after Butler and Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team Commander Norman Wielsch were caught selling stolen drug evidence in February 2012. While many people participated in the dirty DUIs, and lawsuits have been filed by the half-dozen men who were victims of the scam, Tanabe is the only one who was prosecuted because he was the only officer accused of taking bribes in connection with the arrests.
Defense attorney Tim Pori said Tanabe did arrest drunken drivers based on Butler's tips, but he never took any payment from Butler, whom he described as a notorious sociopath, snitch, liar, sneak, pimp and thief.
"I could go on," Pori said. "He made his living setting people up. All he did was frame people."
Butler admitted on the witness stand that he is hoping his testimony against Tanabe will result in the government shaving time off his eight-year sentence for the drug sales, robbing prostitutes, running a brothel, making false arrests and bugging people's cars. He was quick to spill details about Wielsch and other officers in the aftermath of his arrest and was required to testify for the government at any future proceedings as part of his plea deal.
Pori asked jurors not to convict Tanabe based on Butler's account and the text messages that the government said prove that Butler and Tanabe arranged a cocaine exchange within days of the arrest of an Oakland software salesman. The prosecution said Butler's testimony is corroborated by other witnesses, including officers who described Tanabe bragging about the Glock he got from Butler because his PI friend owed him money.
Tanabe decided not to testify, and the defense called no witnesses.
Pori said the government's case was "so weak, so feeble, so flimsy that Mr. Tanabe doesn't need to dignify it with a response."
The jury deliberated Wednesday afternoon and will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.