SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A man claims his estranged wife hired a private investigator to ply him with drinks and get him arrested and charged with a “dirty DUI,” and that a sheriff’s deputy was in on it.
Mitchell Katz claims Alicia Spenger wanted to make him look bad in divorce custody proceedings.
He claims that Spenger hired private eye Christopher Butler, who suggested they set Katz up for a “dirty DUI,” during which co-conspirators would get Katz drunk and Butler would tip off the law when Katz tried to drive away.
Spenger said she “wanted it badly,” according to the complaint.
Katz claims that in January, Butler’s employee Carl Marino invited him to “The Vine” wine bar in Danville under the false premise that Marino was a television producer named “John” who wanted to talk about making a reality TV show about Katz’s wine-making business.
Katz owns Mitchell Katz Winery in Pleasanton. Katz tried to get “John” to come to his winery but he insisted on meeting in Danville.
While at the bar, Katz says, a man named Benny said he was interested in making wine and asked if he could sit in on the meeting. Benny bought drinks for Katz, as did four women who claimed to know Katz from his winery. He says Benny and the four women encouraged him to drink, and he drank more than he normally would.
Katz claims that Benny and the four women were working for Butler, and approached him with the sole purpose of getting him drunk so he would be arrested when he drove away from the bar.
Sure enough, Katz says, he was stopped by Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputy Stephen Tanabe, and was arrested for driving under the influence.
Katz claims that Spenger then paid “John” $1,500 to continue the ruse by touring Katz’s winery with a fake television crew and talking up the TV show.
Katz says that a few months later “John,” aka Marino, emailed him and apologized for his role in the set-up. He claims the email stated: “‘The first thing I want to do is apologize to you for my part of the set up. As you can see, I never wanted to be involved in Butler’s shady activities and that is why I put an end to them and also let the DOJ [United States Department of Justice] know what was done to you and others. I hope you can forgive me and understand that ultimately I was the good guy in this.’ …” (Brackets in complaint.)
Katz claims he responded by email and asked: “‘Did my wife know that is what you guys were doing?'”
He claims that “John” responded: “‘She knew exactly what we were doing. She is the one that wanted us to go to the wintery with the camera and do those interviews after the initial set up. She paid an extra $1,500 to Butler for that. She thought it would look more legitimate. I actually tried to talk her out of it but she was adamant.'”
Katz claims that Officer Tanabe’s partner during the night of the “dirty DUI” informed a detective in February this year that Tanabe had received up to 10 calls on his cell phone from his “PI friend” on the night Katz was pulled over, updating him on Katz.
Katz claims Butler told Tanabe on when Katz would be leaving the bar and described his vehicle. He claims Tanabe parked his police car so it was hidden from Katz’s view when he drove off.
Tanabe’s partner that night, Deputy William Howard, allegedly asked Tanabe what was going on and Tanabe said they were about to conduct a “dirty DUI” stop.
Tanabe stopped Katz for failing to signal a turn, gave him a field sobriety test and arrested him for driving under the influence, according to the complaint.
At the Danville Police Station, according to the complaint: “Deputy Howard told Deputy Tanabe that he felt sorry for plaintiffs because just before Deputy Tanabe arrested plaintiff, plaintiff had been in The Vine discussing a business deal with unidentified persons to be featured in a reality TV show. Deputy Howard felt that plaintiff’s arrest might affect his chances of getting the reality show. Deputy Tanabe responded that Deputy Howard should not worry because the whole thing was a ‘set up.’ Deputy Tanabe did not explain to Deputy Howard what he meant by ‘set up.’ Deputy Tanabe added that he arrested plaintiff because plaintiff needed to be ‘dirtied’ up for a future court date. Deputy Howard felt uncomfortable with plaintiff’s arrest, but because of his inexperience, Deputy Howard did not question plaintiff’s arrest at that time.”
Katz claims that he is not the only person Tanabe has arrested on a “Dirty DUI.”
He seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations, bad faith arrest, negligence, conspiracy, false imprisonment, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and constitutional violations.
Named as defendants are Contra Costa County, Alicia Spenger, Christopher Butler, Carl Marino, Stephen Tanabe, William Howard, Sheriff David Livingston, and the Town of Danville.
Katz is represented by Brian Gearinger.