SAN FRANCISCO -- A former San Ramon family law attorney pleaded guilty Friday to evading taxes and illegally eavesdropping on her clients' estranged spouses with a now-incarcerated private investigator who implicated her in his scam to set up divorcing men for drunken-driving arrests.

Mary Nolan, 61, of Oakland, who gave up her law license last month, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the five felony charges she's admitted to in federal court, said assistant U.S. attorney Hartley West.

Nolan hid $1.8 million in income from the Internal Revenue Service to avoid paying $400,000 in taxes, which she has to repay as part of her plea agreement, according to the government. She also hired ex-Concord private investigator Christopher Butler to bug the cars of people she was opposing in divorce and child custody cases.

In civil court, Nolan is a defendant in two of the half-dozen lawsuits lodged by the targets of Butler's "Dirty DUIs," a scheme in which the estranged spouses of Butler clients were set up for drunken-driving arrests that could be used as leverage in family court.

Nolan represented the ex-wives of two men who were arrested after being lured into drinking and driving by Butler's attractive female employees. Their convictions were expunged after the setups came to light in 2011, when Butler and jailed former Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team Commander Norman Wielsch were caught selling stolen drug evidence and admitted to other crimes, including pimping and robbery.


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Although many people took part in the Dirty DUIs, former Danville Officer Stephen Tanabe was the only one prosecuted. He is awaiting sentencing in December for receiving payment from Butler for facilitating the arrests of three men in Danville.

Butler testified against Tanabe, and would have testified against Nolan, too, had she gone to trial, as part of his own plea deal that put him in prison for eight years.

Nolan will be sentenced by Judge Charles Breyer on Jan. 15.

"Mary Nolan has been an excellent attorney for more than 30 years," said her attorney, Cristina Arguedas. "She's also made some mistakes. She recognizes them, and this is the beginning of the process of atonement."

Private attorney Dirk Manoukian, who is unaffiliated with Nolan's case, said he would expect Nolan to be sentenced to between three and five years.

"In a case like this involving an officer of the court who has violated fundamental duties and obligations, it's unlikely a federal judge will deviate downward from the sentencing guidelines," Manoukian said.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.