D.A.'s office reviewing 'Dirty DUI' arrests, including that of Tri-Valley winemaker Mitchell Katz

By   2011-3-18 14:15:54

By Martha Ross, Kristofer Noceda, Patrick Creaven, and Jennifer Wadsworth

Mitchell Katz, owner of Mitchell Katz Winery at Ruby Hill, is going through a divorce during which his wife Alicia Spenger hired a Concord private investigator who has since been arrested and charged with multiple felonies, according to court records. Katz is considering selling the winery.Credit Shannon David

Livermore resident Mitchell Katz' January arrest in Danville is one of three being reviewed because of links between a former Danville police officer and a Concord private investigator who was arrested on drug and conspiracy charges.

A member of the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office said Wednesday that investigators are reviewing all the cases involving a former Danville police officer, including the DUI arrest of prominent Tri-Valley winemaker Mitchell Katz.

Harold Jewett, senior deputy district attorney, said he and investigators are reviewing cases involving former Danville officer Stephen Tanabe.

Tanabe was arrested last week on drug and weapons charges and linked to the drug and conspiracy case against Concord private investigator Christopher Butler and Norm Wielsh, former head of the state-run Central Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team. All three, at one point, served on the Antioch Police Department.

Tanabe, who lives in Alamo, is free on $260,000 bail and has resigned from the Contra Costa sheriff's department, which provides police services to Danville.

Katz, a Livermore resident and award-winning winemaker with a winery in Pleasanton's exclusive Ruby Hill neighborhood, was arrested by Tanabe on Jan. 14 on a DUI charge after leaving The Vine wine bar in Danville.

The other arrests being reviewed include that of a 44-year-old Martinez man and a 47-year-old Oakland resident.

No charges have been filed against Katz, 47, or the other two arrested in the so-called "dirty DUI" scheme, because of the internal review and because of a staffing shortage in the district attorney's office that has created a backlog in the filing of misdemeanor cases, Jewett said.

On the night of Jan. 14, Katz was at the Vine Bar discussing a deal regarding a reality TV show, according to a March 4 affidavit filed by investigators seeking to search Tanabe's home.

That night, Tanabe was on patrol in Danville with a reserve officer with the Contra Costa sheriff's office. The deputy told investigators that Tanabe received eight to 10 calls from someone Tanabe identified as his "PI friend."

It sounded as if Tanabe was receiving updates in the calls about someone who was drinking at The Vine, the deputy said.

That someone would turn out to be Katz, according to the affidavit.

It sounded as if the private investigator was giving Tanabe updates on Katz’ sobriety, according to the deputy.

 The PI, believed to be Butler, apparently gave Tanabe a description of the white pickup that Katz would be driving, the deputy said.

After locating the vehicle, Tanabe found a location close by from which he could hide his police car, according to the affidavit. The reserve deputy, William Howard, said a short time later Katz left the bar and approached the pickup. Howard said that Tanabe confirmed with Butler that the individual at the pickup was the intended target.

Katz then drove the pickup a short distance, parked it and returned to the bar. A short time later, Katz left The Vine again, got into his pickup and drove away.

When Howard asked him what was going on, Tanabe told him they were about to conduct a “dirty DUI” stop on Katz.

As Katz drove away, Tanabe followed him in his patrol car. When Katz made a right turn without signaling, Tanabe pulled him over, according to the affidavit.

Tanabe then arrested Katz on a charge of driving under the influence.

James McGrail, who owns McGrail Vineyards and Winery in Livermore, confirmed that he is representing Katz but said they had no comment at this time.

According to family court records filed in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward, Katz and his wife, Alicia Spenger, are going through a divorce.

Contra Costa district attorney's investigators said that Spenger paid Butler about $5,000 to investigate her husband, according to the Contra Costa County affidavit.

Katz and Spenger have been married for 20 years and have two sons, court records show.

Katz  first began producing wines under the Jackson Cellars label in 1998, and he and Spenger opened the Mitchell Katz Winery in 2002 at Ruby Hill, 1188 Vineyard Ave., in Pleasanton.

Katz's wife worked at the winery until he fired her in November, according to court records.

The Vine wine bar in Danville was a popular spot, according to court records, for a Concord private investigator to do research on his clients husbands.Credit The Vine-Wine Bar

In an Alameda County Superior Court memorandum filed March 7, Spenger said that her husband has been meeting with investors and is considering selling the business.

She is working with two Pleasanton attorneys, Bruce Jobson and Staley Jobson, to gain her share of the estate, court records said.

In a motion filed in Alameda County court March 8 regarding child custody, child support, visitation, spousal support and management of business, Katz was awarded exclusive temporary management and control of the businesses the couple own.

In the meantime, Katz and Spenger must meet with a mediator to determine a custody schedule for their children.

In another dirty DUI case, one man told the San Francisco Chronicle that his time with his children has been reduced as a result of his arrest, which Butler reportedly set up.

In the Contra Costa County affidavit, Howard told Tanabe that he felt sorry for Katz because his arrest could affect his chances of getting on the reality show.

Tanabe told the officer not to worry because the whole thing was a “set-up."  Tanabe explained that Katz needed to be “dirtied up” for a court date, according to the affidavit.

Dirty DUIS in Danville, Clayton and Concord

Katz' case  is just one of several that have come to light in recent days involving DUI arrests in Danville, Clayton and Concord.

In all of the cases, prosecutors have said, Butler would hire attractive women to drink and flirt with men going through divorces and then tip off local law enforcement officers.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Jewett declined to comment on whether Tanabe's reported association with Butler in targeting men for DUI arrests constituted a criminal violation. Jewett also would not say if Norm Wielsch, the drug force commander, knew about the effort to target men for DUI arrests. Wielsch and Butler were friends from working together in the Antioch Police Department.

A former East Bay resident who did not wish to be identified spoke with Patch by phone about her encounter with Butler, who she said she was referred to by San Ramon attorney Mary Nolan. She said she hired Nolan in 2009 to handle her divorce.

The woman, whose divorce became final recently, according to Contra Costa County court records, said that her "skin crawled" when Butler told what he could have done to her then-husband, including planting drugs in his car and, if needed, destroying his car by pushing it over a cliff.

She said Butler also told her he had broken into the home of a Marin County millionaire, put spyware on his computer and planted drugs in the house.

Butler's attorney, Bill Gagen, reached by phone Wednesday, would not comment on the accusations made by the former East Bay resident.

"I don't want to get ahead of the case," he said.

Gagen, whose practice is based in Danville, said that the "dirty DUI" cases aren't nearly as important as the drug case accusations levied against Butler and Wielsch, who've been charged with 28 counts including conspiracy and stealing and selling drugs.

"They pale in comparison to that," Gagen said, adding that the DUI cases aren't nearly as "widespread as some might think."

After her meeting with Butler, the former East Bay resident said she told Nolan, "You've got to be kidding." She said Nolan told her that Butler "works for all her clients and does an amazing job." She said she had Nolan removed from her case at her next court hearing.

Contra Costa County family law records show that Nolan represented Butler in his seemingly amicable 2008 divorce from his wife of 17 years.  Unlike some of the divorce cases Butler inserted himself into, he and his wife, who had no children, mutually agreed to split up their joint assets. They also agreed to let each hang on to their separate assets, such as Butler's private investigations firm, Butler and Associates, and their pensions through their jobs, including any pension Butler would receive from his time as an Antioch police officer.

The California State Bar Association, which oversees the state's attorneys, said Nolan is in "good standing," according to the Attorney Complaint Hotline, and that whether there is any pending investigation related to her conduct is confidential.

A Patch reporter who met Butler at his Concord office in 2007 while working for a print publication said he asked her if she was interested in being a decoy and whether she'd be "comfortable kissing a much older man."

He then told her he was working with the conservative site biggovernment.com and was looking for decoys by posting ads on sites such as Craigslist to help with stings similar to the one in which a pair of decoys pretended to be a prostitute and pimp and asked ACORN for tax advice.

At the time, Butler was riding high from being featured in People magazine and having a TV show about his "PI Moms" in the works.

He told the reporter that he only employs women because they're intuitive and make natural private investigators.


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