A former divorce attorney was sentenced by a federal judge in San Francisco today to two years in prison for evading income taxes and hiring a Concord private investigator to hide a wiretapping device in the car of a client’s husband.
Mary Nolan, 62, of San Ramon, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in September to four counts of evading more than $400,000 in taxes over four years by understating her income and one charge of illegally intercepting communications.
In the eavesdropping count, she admitted to employing former private investigator Christopher Butler, of Concord, to place a concealed listening device made from a cellphone in the car of a divorce client’s husband between Aug. 9 and Sept. 9, 2007.
Breyer told Nolan during the sentencing today, “To eavesdrop on conversations that clearly weren’t intended for an adversary to hear is a very unfair thing to do.”
But he said he was especially concerned about the failure of Nolan, as a lawyer, to pay the taxes due.
“What I find most troubling is the fact that you were a lawyer. Lawyers have that special responsibility not just to know the law but to follow it,” he told Nolan.
Nolan admitted during her guilty plea to evading more than $400,000 in taxes for the tax years 2005 through 2008. She agreed to pay the U.S. Internal Revenue Service $469,000 in restitution, which she has now done, according to prosecutors, and resigned from the State Bar.
Her guilty plea concerned one instance of wiretapping a client’s husband, who was identified in a 2012 grand jury indictment as N.F.
An additional charge in the indictment that she conspired with Butler to eavesdrop on an unspecified number of her divorcing clients’ husbands was dropped as part of the plea bargain.
But in his own guilty plea in 2012 to a total of seven federal charges, Butler admitted to installing devices in the cars of 75 to 100 victims, including N.F.
Later, in testimony in Breyer’s court in the trial of former Contra Costa County sheriff’s Deputy Stephen Tanabe last year, Butler said he installed “probably a couple of hundred” wiretapping devices in spouses’ cars at the request of his clients or their lawyers.
Butler and former drug squad commander Norman Wielsch were the masterminds of a larger Contra Costa County corruption scheme that also included stealing and selling drug evidence, phony arrests, extortion and civil rights violations.
Butler was given a reduced sentence of eight years in prison in exchange for agreeing to cooperate with federal lawyers in the prosecution of related cases.
Wielsch, the former commander of the Central Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, pleaded guilty to five counts in 2012 and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Breyer ordered Nolan to surrender to begin serving her sentence by March 6. He also ordered her to provide 240 hours of community service during three years of probation after she is released from prison.
Outside of court, Nolan and her lawyer, Cristina Arguedas, declined to comment.