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Timeline of a Scandal

The still-unfolding saga of a drug and conspiracy case involving East Bay police officers, a Contra Costa County drug task force commander, a Concord private eye and several nasty divorce cases has multiple twists and turns.

If your head is spinning over the recent news involving a Contra Costa County drug force commander, a Concord private eye, various other local law enforcement officers and drugs and conspiracy charges, it's understandable.

Here's a timeline summarizing who, according to court records, is involved and what happened when.

Key players:

  • Norm Wielsh, 49, former Antioch police officer, former head of a Contra Costa drug task force, friend of Christopher Butler. Free on $400,000 bail on conspiracy and drug dealing charges. 
  • Christopher Butler, 49, former Antioch police officer, Concord private investigator, developer of reality TV show about female private eyes. Currently out on $900,000 bail on conspiracy and drug dealing charges.
  • Stephen Tanabe, 47, former Antioch police officer, former Danville police officer, Alamo resident. Free on bail for drug and weapon charges. 
  • Louis Lombardi, 38, a San Ramon Police officer, charged with five felony counts in connection with the case. Free on bail.
  • Now-retired Concord police officer Don Lawson, a former identity theft consultant for Butler; currently is a Clayton-based identity theft consultant.
  • Mary Nolan, a San Ramon divorce attorney who handled Butler's divorce from his wife of 17 years; often referred female clients to Butler.
  • "Confidential informant," or "CI," an employee at Butler's private investigations firm whose initial Jan. 21 contact with state  Justice Department sets the whole case in motion. The CI, whose gender is obscured in court records, told agents that Butler wanted to sell marijuana in order to help his longtime friend Norm Wielsch make some extra money. 

Key places: The Taylor Boulevard headquarters in Pleasant Hill for the Central Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team; the Concord office of Butler and Associates; The Vine, a Danville wine bar; Clayton Club Saloon, Clayton;  E.J. Phair's, Concord; Ed's Mudville Grill, Clayton; Old Spaghetti Factory, Concord; the Tice Valley Boulevard parking lot for the Rossmoor Safeway in Walnut Creek; the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department's evidence storage facility in Concord; the county landfill in Martinez. 

What happened and when: 

  • July 2007: A Clayton man, now 46, going through a divorce, is arrested by Lawson after drinking with a woman at two local bars. He believes he has been set up and tells his story to the San Francisco Chronicle in an article published March 13. His ex-wife's attorney was Mary Nolan. (She later withdrew from the case, according to court records.) 
  • Sept. 4, 2008: A judgement for dissolution of marriage and a seemingly amicable settlement is entered in Contra Costa County Superior Court for Christopher Butler and his former wife of 17 years. The attorney representing Butler is Mary Nolan, and the settlement lets both husband and wife divide up joint assets and keep assets they each acquired before and after their marriage and separation. 
  • Dec. 12, 2008: A Concord man, then 46, has drinks with a woman at the Old Spaghetti Factory. That night he is arrested on DUI charges by Lawson. He later tells the San Francisco Chronicle he saw a show featuring Butler and his female private investigators and recognizes the woman he had drinks with the night he was arrested.
  • Nov. 2, 2010: An off-duty Tanabe calls Danville police officer Thomas Henderson to report a man who was about to leave a Danville wine bar and drive drunk. The man, a 47-year-old Oakland resident, is arrested by Henderson and another Danville police officer on DUI charges. 
  • On or about Nov. 19, 2010: Butler approaches one of his employees at his private investigations firm and tells the employee he wants to help his friend "Norm," who is nearing retirement, make some extra money. Butler shows this employee (whose gender is deliberately obscured in a search warrant affidavit) a black plastic case containing what appears to be one pound of marijuana, saying it came from "Norm" and that it is worth about $3,000 per pound. Butler asks the employee to sell it and says they can all share the proceeds, with half going to Norm. The lowest amount for which the drugs should be sold, Butler says, is $1,500. This employee later becomes a "confidential informant" (CI) who helps state agents build a case against Wielsch and Butler.
  • Dec. 16, 2010: The employee never sells the marijuana but on this day the employee gives Butler $1,100. The employee had been feeling pressured by Butler to sell the drugs and so obtained the money by other means. 
  • Dec. 17, 2010: Butler gives his employee a second package containing a pound of marijuana to sell. The employee takes it but never sells it. 
  • Jan. 9: A Martinez man, 44, is arrested by Tanabe on a DUI charge. The arrest has been linked to Butler. 
  • Jan. 14: Reserve Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy William Howard is on patrol with Tanabe. Tanabe receives multiple calls on a personal cell phone from someone he calls his "PI friend." It appears to Howard that Tanabe is getting information about a possible drunken man at The Vine wine bar. Tanabe ultimately arrests the man, a Livermore resident, on drunken driving charges and tells Howard, according to an affidavit, that it was a "dirty DUI" stop to damage the reputation of the man, who is involved in a divorce case. 
  • Jan. 19: Wielsch appears on local TV news, describing how members of the Central Contra Costa Narcotic Enforcement Team located pipe bombs in a unit in a Pacheco storage business. The discovery of the pipe bombs require Interstate 680 to be shut down while members of the Walnut Creek police bomb squad disarm them. 
  • Jan. 21: The Butler employee contacts special agents with the California Justice Department. This employee recognized Wielsch on TV talking about the pipe bombs and tells the agents about the marijuana and how Butler wants to sell it to help Wielsch make some extra money. 
  • Jan. 25: Butler's employee, now a "confidential informant" for an internal investigation of Butler and Wielsch, calls Butler's cell phone in the presence of state agents and agrees to meet Butler in the parking lot of the Rossmoor Safeway in Walnut Creek. There, the employee will give Butler money for the marijuana and claim to be able to sell more drugs. 
  • Jan. 26: Butler and the CI meet at the Safeway parking lot on Tice Valley Boulevard. Butler pulls up in his gray Hummer. During this meeting, the CI gives Butler $3,400 in state funds while Butler gives the CI three packages, each containing a pound of marijuana. 
  • Jan. 27: On his time card for this date, Wielsch notes he and his team seized 50 pounds of marijuana. 
  • Jan 30: Wielsch and Butler, according to investigators, go to the CNET offices on Taylor Boulevard in Pleasant Hill and steal 12 pounds of the marijuana, out of the 50 pounds Wielsch said he seized three days earlier. 
  • Feb. 1: The CI, wearing a wire to capture video and audio recordings, meets Butler at his Concord office, gives him money and obtains a bag that contains marijuana, ephedrine tablets and steroids. During this meeting, Butler explains that he and his "source" took 12 pounds of marijuana from a 50-pound seizure. The CI also hears Butler talking to another employee, a woman, about selling marijuana. 
  • Feb. 2: Agents begin a surveillance at the UFC Gym in Concord, where Butler and his employees work out. Agents also examine Butler's cell phone records and note a sharp increase in calls between Butler's phone and Wielsch's since they started using their CI to make drug purchases for the two men. On this day, the CI once again meets Butler at his office and gives him $1,850. Butler says "1,250 goes to Norm."  Butler and the CI talk about Butler providing steroids for the employee to sell. 
  • Feb. 11: Agents listen in on a series of phone conversations throughout the day between Butler and Wielsch. They say they hear the two discuss selling steroids and ways of taking drug evidence from the CNET offices in Pleasant Hill and pretending to destroy it, even substituting in "flour" as they allow a witness to see them destroying the substance. Agents also hear Wielsch repeatedly express wariness about the drug buyer and fears about the transactions the two are involved in. According to Wielsch, "this is on a whole other level" and could lead to prison time. In response, Butler repeatedly reassures him that the buyer is OK, "a family member," and says he "feels really good about it."
    Specifically, Wielsch talks about using Butler's Hummer to take drug evidence to the dump to be destroyed. The two also discuss selling "the crystal stuff" and prices for other drugs. When Wielsch asks Butler if he knows anything about the person buying the drugs, Butler, who is with the CI in his Concord office, replies "All I know is he showed up with the biggest f------ wad of cash I have ever seen in my life." A wary Wielsch replies, "Yeah, but cops do that, so be careful." 
  • Feb. 15: Butler's Hummer is seen driving to the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department evidence storage facility in Concord. Agents witness Butler load a white box into the back of the Hummer and drive, with Wielsch in the vehicle, to the county landfill in Martinez. After being seen "tampering" with whatever is in the box and then disposing of it, Butler and Wielsch drive to Butler's Concord office where they meet with the CI. They receive cash in exchange for one pound of methamphetamine. 
  • Feb. 16: Wielsh and Butler are arrested on 28 counts of conspiracy and drug charges. 
  • Feb. 16, 8 p.m.: Tanabe calls Howard at home and asks if he can come over. He asks if Howard knows about Wielsh's arrest and says he's worried his cell phone was “bugged” because of his personal relationship with Butler. Tanabe confirmed that his “PI friend” was Butler and he was worried he was going to be investigated because of his “dirty DUIs.” Tanabe gives Howard a black plastic bag and asks him to put it in his attic. Howard says he did not look in the bag. A week later, Howard contacts the Contra Costa Sheriff's office and gives the bag to them. It's later determined that inside the bag was a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle.  The rifle was not registered to Tanabe. 
  • Feb. 28: Charges are filed against Wielsch and Butler. The 28 counts include conspiracy; selling methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids, and possessing methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids for sale.
  • March 4:  Contra Costa County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Jason Vorhauer files an affidavit stating that Howard approached him and reported that he had been on patrol with Tanabe in Danville during the Jan. 14 DUI stop.
  • March 4: Tanabe is arrested.
  • March 9: In an open letter to Danville residents about the investigation, Danville Town Manager Joe Calabrigo writes: "We are shocked and dismayed by these developments and the understandable concern that this could generate with our community."
  • March 10: Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston announces that Tanabe has resigned, but an administrative investigation is continuing along with a multi-agency criminal investigation.
  • March 15: Jimmy Lee, Contra Costa County sheriff's director of public affairs, writes an e-mail to Patch confirming that: "Deputy Sheriff Tom Henderson is no longer working in Danville. He is currently assigned to patrol." 
  • March 16: The Contra Costa District Attorney's office says it is going to review all of the cases involving Wielsch and Tanabe. 
  • April 8: Prosecutors dismissed 15 pending criminal cases and declined to file charges in five more cases involving so-called "dirty DUI" arrests.
  • May 4: A third police officer, Louis Lombardi of the San Ramon Police Department, is arrested on charges of selling drugs in connection with the overall case.
  • May 14: Butler accuses Wielsch of helping him with a prostitution ring.

Sources: Alameda County and Contra Costa County court records, court proceedings and individual interviews.

Pete Bennett April 27, 2011 at 06:45 AM
Martha - Like I said at the prelim - much bigger Steve: they turn a blind eye but they all have their version of CYA dosier. The coats will be turning soon. Mary Nolan should be disbarred but you have a lot of family law cases that have resulted in deaths, Nolan and several other attorneys represented those victims or spouse. You think its just Dirty DUI - people have been getting taken in the Family Law Center - why do you think we have so MANY explosive divorces?
Pete Bennett May 10, 2011 at 05:59 AM
Yep the Family Law Center shold be renamed - Family Scandal Center - Line em' up, take em' down, scroundrels welcome It could happen to you as it happened to me and hundreds of others - You understand what RICO is? This entire case falls under RICO Statues - wait until the Feds finish connecting the dots.
Pete Bennett May 10, 2011 at 08:42 AM
Hip Hip Hoarray - you are right brother
Makoman210 April 04, 2012 at 02:10 AM
just a bit of info ! a friend of mine was recruited by a paralegal of NOLANS while doing her taxes (the paralegal moonlights for our tax preparer) and told that NOLAN felt sorry for my friend and would handle her case at an extreemly reduced rate , well that was BS MISS NOLAN charged and overcharged for practically everything ,then quit on my friend a couple days prior to a court date and then charged her for the court date ! over 20,000 dollars later and still in the temp allimony phase of what NOLAN called a very simple divorce ,both parties in divorce were middle class with middle class earnings children grown with families of thier own little assets and a home in forclosure , NOLAN duped my friend and bled her dry ,with no concerns about what she did ! NOLAN should have her attorneys priviledges and bar lic revoked in thes tate of california and anywhere else she may apply THIS IS ALL STRICTLY MY OPINION
philip j dominic May 21, 2012 at 07:37 PM
I am going to a long cause hearing in july 2012 with this nolan thing and I will be presenting proof she is a liar. If anybody would like to come or has something they would like to share about nolan , that I might be able yo use in court .. Please contact me at 126bug@gmail.com My name is Phil...

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