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Chris Butler, owner of Butler & Associates Private Investigations at his Concord, Calif. office on Tuesday, April 20, 2010. (Sherry LaVars/Staff Archive)

FBI agents on Monday arrested a former Contra Costa County drug task force commander and a former Concord private investigator on a 17-count federal grand jury indictment that could put the two in prison for life and cost them more than $40 million in fines.

The two 50-year-old Contra Costans, Norman Wielsch and Christopher Butler, were charged with drug conspiracy, distribution of methamphetamine and marijuana, theft, extortion and civil rights violations.

They are being held without bail in a federal jail pending separate detention hearings scheduled for Thursday and Aug. 22.

The indictment revealed for the first time that the two brought prostitutes to the county to rob them during phony stings.

The indictment is similar to a county complaint against Wielsch, the drug team leader, and Butler, a one-time private eye and former police officer, but carries much heavier penalties, said county District Attorney Mark Peterson. "It's a sad day for law enforcement but the system works and these gentlemen are being held accountable for their actions," Peterson said.

"This indictment alleges a pattern of lawlessness that not only violated the trust of the people of Contra Costa County, but also brings dishonor to all the fine men and women in law enforcement who work hard, do the right thing, and risk their lives every day protecting our communities," U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said.

The indictment does not mention former Danville officer Stephen Tanabe and former San Ramon officer Louis Lombardi who, with Wielsch and Butler, are charged in Contra Costa County as part of the Central Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team corruption scandal.

CNET, a program partly funded by the state Department of Justice, was suspended after Wielsch and Butler's arrest on Feb. 16.

A U.S. attorney's office spokesman would not comment on whether separate indictments against Tanabe and Lombardi are pending, or whether any additional charges for Wielsch and Butler are being considered. Notably absent from the indictment is mention of a local allegation that Butler conspired to use female decoys to set up targets for drunken-driving arrests.

Wielsch attorney Michael Cardoza said Monday he was puzzled about why Tanabe and Lombardi weren't included. "I don't know enough to know if I should be upset," Cardoza said. "It's definitely wait-and-see ... we're going to have to wait to ferret it all out."

Cardoza said he doesn't expect Wielsch to serve a life sentence if convicted.

"That (the possibility of a life term) is normal on a federal crime, but that doesn't mean he's going to get anywhere near that."

Attorneys for Butler, Tanabe and Lombardi could not be immediately reached for comment.

Staff writer Hannah Dreier contributed to this report. Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684.

federal grand jury
The indictment, announced Monday, charges that:
  • Wielsch and Butler, both former Antioch police officers, stole from county evidence lockers and sold methamphetamine and marijuana that had been seized in CNET operations.
  • Wielsch and Butler participated together in a phony "sting" operation in which they falsely detained a person, conducted warrantless searches and kept narcotics that were taken from the person during the sting.
  • Butler opened a prostitution massage parlor in Pleasant Hill, took weekly payments from the women and shared the money with Wielsch in return for protection from arrest.
  • Wielsch and Butler arranged meetings with prostitutes and staged sting operations, but took the prostitutes' money and property for themselves.