Contra Costa scandal figure pleads not guilty

SAN FRANCISCO — A private investigator at the center of a federal investigation into local law enforcement pleaded not guilty to drug and corruption charges Friday.

Christopher Butler, 50, was indicted by a federal grand jury along with his friend Norman Wielsch, 50, a former state Department of Justice agent who led an antinarcotics task force in Contra Costa County.

The 17-count indictment alleged that Butler, a former Antioch police officer, and Wielsch stole methamphetamine and marijuana from police evidence lockers to sell, robbed prostitutes of cash and cell phones during phony sting operations, and operated a brothel in Pleasant Hill that fronted as a massage parlor.

The indictment says Wielsch used his position as the task force’s commander to protect the brothel from law enforcement while he and Butler collected weekly cash payments from the women who worked for them.

If convicted, the men face up to life in prison.

Butler, who appeared before Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Francisco, was scheduled to be released late Friday after his father secured a $1 million bond.

“Now don’t try to get another passport and go to other countries,” Cousins warned Butler.

“Yes, your honor,” Butler said.

Butler is already out on $900,000 bail in Contra Costa County, where he faces state conspiracy charges of arranging the drunken-driving arrests of men he was paid to investigate.

According to several people involved with the investigation, federal authorities are still interviewing witnesses and the probe is continuing.

U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Jack Gillund declined to comment on the case or Friday’s hearing.

Outside the courtroom, Butler’s attorney, William Gagen, said the federal charges are “serious, and we’re going to deal with it.”

While the case proceeds, Butler plans to take classes at a local college to complete his bachelor’s degree, Gagen said.

Wielsch, who remains in custody, is scheduled for a detention hearing Monday in Oakland.

His attorney, Michael Cardoza, has said his client had no knowledge of the brothel.

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