'Dirty DUI' Sentencing: Ex-Cop Gets Prison Time

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 20, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An ex-cop involved in the infamous "dirty DUI" scandal was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Wednesday, nearly three years after his 2011 arrest.

Stephen Tanabe, 50, spoke contritely before a judge about his part in the scheme, the Contra Costa Times reports. Prosecutors say Tanabe received a Glock handgun in exchange for arresting men who were "baited" into driving drunk. Tanabe, who previously worked as a police officer in suburbs east of San Francisco, resigned from his job as a sheriff's deputy after his arrest.

How did the court arrive at Tanabe's punishment?

Convicted of 6 Felonies

In federal court in September, Tanabe was convicted of six felonies including conspiracy, wire fraud, and extortion, the Times reports. These charges all stemmed from Tanabe's involvement in the "dirty DUI" busts orchestrated by former private investigator Christopher Butler.

Butler's scheme involved hiring women to "date" men involved in divorce or custody battles, getting them drunk, and then tipping off authorities to arrest the sauced spouses for drunken driving when they climbed into their cars. The DUI charges would then significantly impact any pending divorce or custody matter in which the scam's victims were embroiled.

For his part, Tanabe was one of Butler's law-enforcement contacts who agreed to arrest the men for the "dirty DUIs." Tanabe explained to a federal judge on Wednesday that he "felt justified in arresting drunken drivers," the Times reports. He claimed he did not know the extent of Butler's "dirty DUI" scheme.

Although California is more open than most states about hiring felons, these six felony convictions most likely have ended Tanabe's future as a law enforcement officer.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Federal courts have a very exacting system for determining punishments for various federal crimes, which are governed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The calculation of a criminal sentence under these guidelines is often very difficult, but free calculators exist to estimate a probable punishment.

In Tanabe's case, his six felonies called for 21 to 27 months in prison under the Guidelines, but Judge Charles R. Breyer reduced that number to 15 months.

According to the Contra Costa Times, Judge Breyer gave no reasoning why he opted to go easy on Tanabe, but judges sometimes reduce a sentence where the defendant is genuinely remorseful.

Tanabe has until April 15 to turn himself in.

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