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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Guilty Plea in 'Dirty Cop' Case

Key figure in 'dirty DUI' stings pleads guilty 
The San Francisco Chronicle by Vivian Ho and Demian Bulwa  -  May 5, 2012

The stardom-seeking private investigator at the center of an East Bay law enforcement scandal pleaded guilty Friday to seven criminal counts in an agreement with federal prosecutors. Christopher Butler, 50, pleaded guilty to charges including extortion, robbery and conspiring to deal drugs during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Oakland. Butler and Norman Wielsch, a former state Department of Justice agent who led an antinarcotics task force in Contra Costa County, were indicted last year. The two once worked together as Antioch police officers. They were accused of crimes including stealing marijuana and methamphetamine from police evidence lockers to sell, embezzling cash and opening a massage parlor in Pleasant Hill that served as a front for prostitution. Butler had sought fame - and a reality television deal - by hiring "Mommy P.I.s," attractive women whose job was to lure men into cheating on their wives.

Admissions of guilt - But he was exposed for using actors to fake some of the stings. And he admitted in court to bribing a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy, Stephen Tanabe, with cocaine and a gun to make drunken-driving arrests of men he was investigating - so-called "dirty DUI" stings. Butler also admitted to carrying out a fake arrest of the teenage son of a client who suspected the boy was selling drugs, and setting up 75 to 100 illegal wiretaps as part of his private-investigator business. Butler said he and Wielsch had stolen methamphetamine from police evidence lockers and sold at least a pound of the drug for $9,800. He also admitted to conspiring with Wielsch to establish the Pleasant Hill brothel, and to collecting more than $10,000 from the business that allegedly went to Wielsch in exchange for protection for the operation from law enforcement. Butler's sentencing is set for Sept. 11, and prosecutors would not say what term they would recommend. The drug charge against him carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life. Wielsch, 51, has pleaded not guilty to similar charges and remains free on bail. Tanabe, who is no longer a sheriff's deputy, has also pleaded not guilty.

Associate sentenced -  In the same courtroom Friday, an associate of Butler's, former San Ramon police officer and vice cop Louis Lombardi, was sentenced to three years in prison by U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong. Lombardi had admitted to nine felonies, including stealing $40,000 in cash while on the job and pocketing drugs during searches. Lombardi, 39, worked as Wielsch's second-in-command on the now-disbanded Central Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team from 2005 to 2009. He was arrested in April 2011, two months after Wielsch and Butler, and pleaded guilty in January. Lombardi admitted that Wielsch had once given him half a pound of marijuana, which he then sold to a confidential informant in Arizona and split the profits with his former boss. In court papers, prosecutors depicted Lombardi as an opportunistic man who used the power of his badge to steal large sums of cash as well as petty items, including a bottle of whiskey and a pair of sunglasses. But in court, prosecutors asked the judge for a lenient sentence, explaining that Lombardi was cooperating with law enforcement and accepted responsibility for his crimes. Lombardi tearfully apologized to his family and to police officers for "destroying" the reputation of law enforcement. "There's nothing I can do to bring that back," he said. "I'm deeply sorry." Lombardi's lawyer, Dirk Manoukian, said the former officer had begun taking drugs as a form of self-medication after rupturing a disk in his back during a 2008 arrest. As part of his sentence, he must undergo drug treatment while in prison. Armstrong, a former Oakland police officer, also ordered Lombardi to pay $7,500 in restitution to the city of San Ramon. "It is a sentence that allows everyone to start healing and moving forward," Manoukian said. "Mr. Lombardi has worked very hard since being arrested to right the wrongs he committed."

Seeking similar deal -  Bill Gagen, Butler's attorney, said he hoped his client would receive a similarly lenient sentence. He said that the private eye has also cooperated with prosecutors, and that much of the case against Wielsch is due to the "candor of Mr. Butler." Gagen said Butler had fallen in love with the spotlight - the "Mommy P.I.s" got him on the "Dr. Phil" show and brought a write-up in People magazine. "I think good judgment was just overcome by the desire for notoriety," Gagen said. Butler was stoic during Friday's hearing. After he pleaded guilty, he removed his jacket and tie, handed it to his attorney and went with the U.S. marshal taking him into custody. "As tough as it is, he's ready to pay the price," Gagen said. Vivian Ho and Demian Bulwa are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Twitter: @VivianHo, @demianbulwa.,

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