MARTINEZ (BCN) — A Contra Costa County drug task force commander and his alleged accomplice pleaded not guilty today to charges that they stole drugs from law enforcement evidence lockers and sold them back out onto the streets.
Norman Wielsch, commander of the Central Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team, or CNET, and Christopher Butler, a Concord-based private investigator and former Antioch police officer, both 49, were charged in February in a 28-count criminal complaint.
The charges include conspiracy; selling methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids; and possessing methamphetamine, marijuana and steroids for sale.
Wielsch’s attorney Michael Cardoza and Butler’s attorney William Gagen both said outside the courtroom that the pleas were mainly procedural.
Cardoza said Wielsch has confessed to many of the crimes he has been charged with and has been cooperating with investigators.
Gagen also said there was no doubt Butler was involved in the alleged scheme, but he was still reviewing the evidence and couldn’t comment on specific charges.
During the arraignment Wednesday, Gagen also argued to have Butler’s bail reduced from $900,000 to $400,000, but Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Nancy Davis Stark denied the request after Deputy District Attorney Jun Fernandez argued that Butler posed a danger to the public.
Fernandez alleged that investigators had audio and video recordings of Butler pushing Wielsch to sell pounds of marijuana and methamphetamine.
Fernandez also described a 2009 incident in which Butler and several of his employees allegedly dressed up as Antioch police officers and kidnapped a young man at gunpoint as part of an intervention.
The man’s mother was allegedly concerned that her son was addicted to drugs and hired Butler to conduct an intervention, Fernandez said.
Butler allegedly had the man lured to the CNET parking lot, Fernandez said, where he detained him at gunpoint using disposable restraints and shoved him into the back of a Hummer.
His mother then showed up, acted surprised and gave them permission to search her house, where they allegedly found 4,000 Xanax pills under the son’s mattress, Fernandez said.
Butler allegedly seized the pills, but never turned them over to law enforcement, Fernandez said.
He said Wielsch was present during the entire incident, which was recorded on videotape.
He said that so far no charges have been filed related to the incident.
Gagen argued that while the intervention was illegal, it was done to help a mother who desperately wanted to scare her son straight.
“A mother cannot give someone permission to kidnap her son at gunpoint,” Stark said.
Gagen said Butler had no criminal record and has strong ties to his family and to the community.
Fernandez, however, said that Wielsch and Butler know who tipped off law enforcement to the alleged scheme and they would be able to find them and others who are witnesses in the case.
During their previous court appearance on Feb. 18, Stark reduced bail for Wielsch to $400,000. He has since posted bail and was out of custody for the hearing Wednesday.
He sat in court surrounded by family members.
Gagen said he didn’t know why Butler’s bail was higher than Wielsch’s, since the charges against the two men are nearly identical.
Wielsch, however, was the one with access to law enforcement evidence lockers, and Butler would not have had access to the drugs without him, Gagen said.
Stark also denied a request by Cardoza to allow Wielsch to travel to Southern California if his daughter, who has cancer, goes there to receive treatment. One of the conditions of his release was that he must remain in Contra Costa County.
Meanwhile, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office is working with the state Department of Justice to review all the cases brought in by CNET to determine if they have been compromised.
District Attorney Mark Peterson said at a news conference in February that investigators believe the alleged criminal activity was limited to a four-month period, and that the alleged scheme did not involve any other police officers.
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