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Law Enforcement Scandal: FBI, U.S. Attorney Take Over Investigation

Four men arrested in the widening CNET scandal could face new charges in addition to those brought by the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.

The FBI and U.S Attorney’s Office have taken over investigating an  that could now involve out-of-state drug trafficking.

Three former Contra Costa law enforcement officers and a private investigator, charged with selling drugs, conspiracy, illegal weapons possession and setting up people for DUI arrests, may soon face federal charges as well, according to Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson.

Federal investigators will investigate whether the defendants sold drugs outside California, ran a brothel or were involved in growing marijuana, Peterson said. Those are angles to the case county investigators haven't had the time or resources to pursue, he said.

Those facing dozens of felony charges are: Norman Wielsch, former Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Task Force commander; Concord private investigator and former police officer Christopher Butler; and former police officers from Danville and San Ramon Stephen Tanabe and Louis Lombardi

All remain free after posting bail, but they could be re-arrested by federal agents now that the case has been handed over, Peterson said. Wielsch, Lombardi and Tanabe are no longer law enforcement officers.

"As a direct consequence of these actions, three rogue police officers have resigned as police officers and will never again be entrusted with that responsibility," Peterson said.

The scandal grew so widespread – affecting multiple police departments, other law enforcement agencies and possibly crossing state lines – that it became too much for the county district attorney’s office to handle.

“With current budget constraints imposed upon my office, we do not have sufficient resources to adequately address the numerous areas of other possible illegal activity that need further exploration in this investigation and prosecution,” Peterson told a roomful of reporters at a Friday afternoon press conference in Martinez.

Another reason the case has escalated to a federal level is to avoid any appearance of bias, Peterson added.

"Our office has fulfilled its obligation to independently investigate and prosecute the illegal activities we have discovered to date," Peterson said. "However, the criminal investigation of these individuals must not only be independent in fact, but also, it must be completely independent in its appearance."

The state Department of Justice started the investigation on Jan. 25, looking into accusations of wrongdoing by Wielsch and Butler. County prosecutors jumped in on the case the following day, Peterson said.

In February, the district attorney's office filed its first battery of charges against Butler and Wielsch

Lombardi, 38, was charged with conspiracy to sell drugs; possession of an assault rifle; possession of an SKS rifle; embezzlement; and receiving stolen firearms.

Those charges are part of a 38-count criminal complaint against Wielsch, Tanabe and Butler.          

Wielsch and Butler have been charged with conspiracy; selling methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids; and possessing methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids for sale.

Court documents say that Wielsch stole drugs from law enforcement evidence lockers and Butler arranged to have them sold. There are also accusations by Butler that Wielsch was involved in a brothel operation.

Tanabe, 47, is accused of being involved in steroid sales, according to court records.

Tanabe and Butler also have been charged in connection with a so-called "dirty DUI" scheme, in which Butler is accused of setting up men from multiple East Bay cities to be arrested for drunken driving. In some of the cases, Tanabe was the arresting officer.

Peterson said it's "very, very rare" for anyone to face federal charges without the county DA dismissing its own charges but so far there are plans for the case to continue at both levels.

The arrest of the three former police officers has already forced the District Attorney's office to toss out 15 criminal cases because of possibly tainted evidence. It's unclear how much more the scandal will unfold, Peterson added.

"We're hopeful that it's not any bigger than what we've uncovered ... but [already] it's gotten larger than we thought it would be," he said Friday.

– Bay City News also contributed to this report.

Gina in Sebastopol June 05, 2011 at 04:51 PM
First of all: Hospitals treat everyone -- not just illegal aliens. Second: If we had universal public health care here, these people you're complaining about would have the option to see to a doctor and have proper preventive care, and get treatment BEFORE they become so sick that they end up at a hospital. That would actually be far less costly to the taxpayer. Third: Since illegal aliens ARE here (leaving aside the question of how they got here or what should be done with them), what is Paul suggesting we do when some of them get seriously ill? Think about the consequences of what you are saying here, Paul. Do you really want sick people wandering around untreated, spreading more disease to you and your family? Or do you think you can isolate yourself from the rest of society? If people of your political persuasion offered solutions instead of scapegoats, the rest of us might listen and you wouldn't be in the minority so consistently. Instead, Republicans complain and blame, then use obstructionist tactics to block anything that might actually begin address to address our real and massive problems (such as Jerry Brown's effort to get the tax - and budget-cuts plan on the state ballot for a referendum).
Pete Bennett June 08, 2011 at 08:14 AM
I am but my history and story hasn't been told and may never be told - wait until the real truth comes out.
Pete Bennett June 08, 2011 at 08:16 AM
Over 20 years leading back to cases long forgotten - news at 11:00 so they say
T. Gunter June 11, 2011 at 07:09 PM
Well put, Gina. It seems that these bitter tunnel-visionaries rant about what is wrong, always about what is wrong. In the meantime they are content with the "same-as-usual" approach. Their approach that has historically proven to be flawed and without vision for the future. My experience is that the codgers that most commonly hold these opinions are retired short-timers that could care less where humanity stands in 10 or 15 years. For more than likely, they won't be around to share in the experience. The original American pioneering spirit was/and should continue to be about progress and change for the better.
Pete Bennett July 31, 2011 at 04:59 AM
Gina, six years ago I encountered this Dirty DUI Scheme only in my case they tried to kill me. Coverup on steroids but my medical will cost the county over 100K, the state has paid for my sons to be on welfare while my health returned. The Golden Hand of Contra Costa was caught with his hand in the honey as reached to get more than he had sadly this hand already had more than enough. Soon we're are going to dee the Golden Hand loose a finger or more.

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