OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The former commander of a Contra Costa County drug squad won permission from a federal magistrate in Oakland Thursday to travel to Los Angeles for what his lawyer said is an appearance on the “Dr. Phil” daytime television talk show.
Norman Wielsch, 50, of Antioch, is a former state drug enforcement agent who headed the Central Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, known as CNET.
He and former private investigator Christopher Butler of Concord face an array of drug and corruption charges in a federal grand jury indictment issued on Aug. 8.
Wielsch, who is free on $100,000 bail, asked U.S. Magistrate Laurel Beeler in a court filing this morning for permission to travel with defense attorney Michael Cardoza to Southern California on Feb. 5 and 6.
Beeler signed an order granting permission Thursday afternoon.
Although Wielsch didn’t give a reason for the trip, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hartley West, who opposed the request, said in a filing that she learned from the court pretrial services officer supervising Wielsch that the purpose is to appear on the Dr. Phil show.
Cardoza confirmed Thursday that Wielsch’s plan is to appear on the reality talk show hosted by psychologist Phil McGraw in Los Angeles.
“He’s doing it,” said Cardoza, who said Wielsch’s interview will be recorded on Monday for broadcast in mid-February.
The attorney said Wielsch’s aim in the unpaid appearance is to reach out to other law enforcement officers who may be under stress and encourage them to seek psychological help.
“He wants to make a plea to officers who are in the same type of trouble he was in, with physical disabilities and stress, not to let the macho atmosphere of police departments prevent them from getting help,” Cardoza said.
“He will be able to reach a lot of people” on the daytime show, Cardoza said.
“A lot of wives of police officers will be watching and we hope they will have a chit-chat with their husbands in the evening.
“If he can reach just one person, he will feel good,” the defense attorney said.
Cardoza said the stress Wielsch was under at the time of the alleged crimes between 2009 and 2011 included neuropathic problems with his feet and anxiety over a daughter’s medical problems.
Wielsch and Butler are accused in the federal indictment of stealing and then reselling marijuana and methamphetamine seized by CNET, extorting payments from women in an illegal massage parlor they ran, and conducting phony sting operations in which they stole money and cellphones from prostitutes they identified from Internet advertisements.
No trial date has been set. They are due to appear before U.S. District Judge Saundra Armstrong, the trial judge assigned to the case, in Oakland for a status conference on March 20.
Cardoza said Wielsch has admitted to authorities that he carried out some but not all of the crimes he is charged with and said the former officer is currently negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
“He knows he will be punished but he wants to be punished fairly,” said Cardoza, who declined to say which charges Wielsch has allegedly admitted to.
Cardoza said he expects that related charges filed by the Contra Costa County district attorney in the state court system will be dismissed after the federal case is resolved.
In papers opposing the travel request, West said that Wielsch, who would face an estimated sentence of 24 to 30 years in prison under federal guidelines if convicted of all charges, might be likely to flee.
She also said the trip was not for the normal family or medical reasons allowed for travel outside the federal trial court’s Northern California jurisdiction.
“Defendant Wielsch faces very serious criminal charges and a very high prison sentence,” West wrote.
“This travel request is not based on family, medical, or employment reasons that typically support government consent.
“It is, instead, an effort to appeal to the public and to exploit his crimes (admittedly alleged at this point) for personal gain,” the prosecutor wrote.
Beeler’s brief order granting the request did not specify her reasons for doing do.
Cardoza said, “The only issue is whether he’s going to come back,” and maintained Wielsch would be unlikely to flee after having informed the pretrial services officer of his airline flights and hotel arrangements.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office was not immediately available for comment.
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