Christopher Butler – a former private investigator at the center of an East Bay corruption scandal who later cooperated with prosecutors – had a year knocked off his prison sentence by a federal judge today.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco, in a one-sentence order, reduced Butler’s sentence for his conviction on seven federal charges from eight years in prison to seven.
Breyer said the decrease was made at the request of prosecutors but did not elaborate. But Butler’s defense attorney, William Gagen, said the reduction was “exactly what” prosecutors had requested in exchange for Butler’s ongoing cooperation.
Butler, 52, of Concord, was one of two masterminds, along with former state narcotics squad commander Norman Wielsch, of a wide-ranging police corruption scheme in Contra Costa County. The charges in the case included the theft and sale of seized drug evidence, drunken-driving stings known as “dirty DUIs,” illegal wiretapping of the cars of husbands in divorce cases, robbery and extortion.
Butler pleaded guilty in federal court in Oakland in 2012 to seven felonies and was initially sentenced by U.S. District Judge Saundra Armstrong later in 2012 to eight years in prison. His case was transferred to Breyer’s court last year.
Butler’s convictions included conspiring to sell methamphetamine and marijuana that Wielsch stole from evidence lockers; violating the civil rights of a teenager and prostitutes in fake arrests; extorting protection money from workers in a massage parlor that he and Wielsch established; and illegal wiretapping of his clients’ husbands’ cars. While testifying for the prosecution in the case of former Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputy Stephen Tanabe in 2013, Butler acknowledged that his sentence had already been reduced from a mandatory 10 years to the eight-year term in exchange for his cooperation, and said it could be reduced further.
Gagen said today, “I’m relieved that the sentence reduction committee of the U.S. Attorney’s Office felt he earned the right to some more time reduced. “I think it was a very fair result,” the defense attorney said. He said Butler is incarcerated at a federal prison in Colorado. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag had no immediate comment on Breyer’s order.
Prosecutors’ requests for the two reductions appeared to have been filed under seal in 2012 and again last September, following Tanabe’s conviction on charges related to aiding Butler in setting up the drunken driving stings. Butler was one of five people prosecuted in federal court in connection with the scandal. Wielsch, the former commander of the now-disbanded Central Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, pleaded guilty in 2012 to five charges, including conspiracy to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine, theft from a government program, two counts of conspiracy against civil rights and a count of robbing cell phones and cash from a madam accompanying a prostitute. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Former San Ramon police officer and CNET member Louis Lombardi received a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to stealing cash and property during searches and possessing and selling drugs and stolen guns.
Former San Ramon divorce attorney Mary Nolan pleaded guilty to four counts of evading income taxes and one count of hiring Butler to hide a wiretapping device in a client’s husband’s car in 2007. She was sentenced to two years in prison. Tanabe, the only defendant to go to trial, was convicted on Sept. 3 of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion for his role in three drunken-driving stings in Danville in 2010 and 2011. He was sentenced by Breyer to one year and three months in prison and is appealing his conviction.
Butler and Tanabe are also facing civil lawsuits filed in federal court by three men who were arrested in drunken-driving stings.