Diablo magazine's latest issue chronicles the madness behind Christopher Butler's PI Moms-cheating-lover sting operations and reveals how a writer for the magazine helped put one of Butler's employees into contact with authorities.
The employee became the confidential informant who helped authorities build a case against Butler and his good friend Norm Wielsch, the head of the central Contra Costa County's drug task force. The investigation led to each being charged with multiple counts of drug dealing and conspiracy.
Senior writer and editor Peter Crooks, like many in the media, had received suggestions to profile Butler's private investigations firm, Butler and Associates. The pitch to Crooks came in August and went something like this: "Butler’s business is a great story for Diablo. Not only does his firm hire moms to run surveillance on cheating husbands, but it was recently featured in People magazine and on the Today Show and Dr. Phil—and Butler has just signed a deal for a reality show on Lifetime television."
Crooks explains that on Sept. 11 he accompanied two of Butler's "PI Moms"—soccer mom-type investigators who were the heart of his agency—on a surveillance of the much younger fiance of a wealthy woman. The 10-hour operation took them up to the Wine Country, where they watched the supposed cheater buy his "Megan Fox"-like mystery date gifts at a jewelry store. They watched the two dine at the Rutherford Grill, go wine tasting and become friendly with a handsome married couple who were working for Butler. The surveillance ended with the fiance and his honey pulling a Jaguar into a Holiday Inn Express in American Canyon.
A couple choices Butler made raised red flags for Crooks. One was when Butler called the PI moms to say he was bringing the client to the Holiday Inn so she could go through the Jaguar and see what her fiance had bought for his paramour. The second was when Butler got the Jaguar keys from the client and drove the car to a nearby Safeway parking lot, where they examined the contents of the car.
Crooks didn't immediately write or publish the story; Diablo often has a long lead time. Crooks said he also wanted to time the story's publication to when Lifetime began airing the reality show based on Butler and Associates and the PI Moms.
As a point of disclosure, I am a former associate editor at Diablo and worked with Crooks for seven years.
The delay turned out to be a good thing—for the story and for uncovering some unsavory truths about Butler, his firm and some of Butler's friends from his Antioch cop days. The friends included Wielsch and Stephen Tanabe, a former Danville police officer and Alamo resident who resigned from the force after being arrested on drug and weapons charges and being linked to Butler's alleged "dirty DUI scheme."
This is where Butler, working with attorneys handling contentious divorce cases, would try to tarnish the reputations of the husbands of the attorneys' female clients.
In some cases, the PI Moms might meet men at bars and urge them to drink. In another case, Butler or someone working on his behalf, including Tanabe, would be in the bar and call local police to alert them of a possible drunken driver. Five men have been arrested on drunken-driving charges in Clayton, Concord and Danville since 2007 stemming from Butler's alleged scheme. The Contra Costa District Attorney's Office is reviewing these cases.
In January, as Crooks was getting ready to write his story for Diablo's March issue, he received an email from a confidential source that warned him against publishing the Butler story. It alleged that "Chris played you. The case that you sat in on was totally scripted. All of the participants were employees or paid actors. ... The whole ‘P.I. Moms’ thing has even been crafted just to get on a TV show."
In the current Diablo issue, Crooks reveals that his source said that Butler was well connected to the police community and the county drug task force. Furthermore, the source told Crooks, the drug task force commander "is taking taking the drugs from raids and giving them to Chris to move."
With that information, Crooks connected his source to a law enforcement professional he has known for a long time. Crooks' source eventually became the confidential informant who worked with state agents to set up a series of drug buys from Butler, according to an affidavit filed with Butler's court case. The drugs, including 12 pounds of marijuana, allegedly came from drugs that Wielsch and his team seized in drug busts.
Crooks learned that other ride-alongs Butler took media organizations on were fraudulent, including one mentioned in a March 15, 2010, issue of People. And, at least part of the June 1, 2010, episode of Dr. Phil was fake, Crooks said.
Even the Contra Costa Times story of June 13, 2010—the one that prompted the client mentioned in Crooks story to hire Butler and Associates to sting her real boyfriend—mentioned a detail that raised questions about the sting's authenticity. It is the black Mustang that the so-called philandering husband drove. That black Mustang GT showed up in the Wine Country sting, driven by the couple Butler hired to help with the surveillance. The husband, Carl Marino, a retired New York police officer who worked with Butler and is now pursuing an acting and modeling career, told Crooks that Butler owns the Mustang. A black Ford Mustang was seized when state agents arrested Butler.
"Butler’s serial media whoring seems petty compared to the 28 felony counts brought against him and Wielsch," Crooks writes. "But it was this wildly megalomaniacal habit of staging elaborate hoaxes to be seen as a badass—while trying to play Scarface off camera—that proved to be the kindling for Butler’s eventual ash heap of a reputation, as well as his catastrophic legal demise."
For a timeline of the Butler/Wielsch arrest and the "dirty DUI" arrests, read Patch's story