A local drug task force commander and his alleged co-conspirator were arraigned in a packed courtroom in Martinez Friday on charges of possessing and selling marijuana, methamphetamine and steroids that had been stolen from law enforcement evidence lockers.
Norman Wielsch, commander of the Central Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team, and Christopher Butler, a Concord-based private investigator and former police officer, both 49, were charged in Contra Costa County in a 28-count criminal complaint.
The charges against the pair include conspiracy, selling methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine for sale and multiple counts of selling marijuana, possessing marijuana for sale, selling illegal steroids and possessing illegal steroids for sale.
The charges stem from an undercover investigation that began in November and allege illegal drug activity from Nov. 17 through Wednesday when the two men were arrested in Benicia.
Neither defendant entered a plea and both are scheduled to return to Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez on March 2.
According to Butler's attorney William Gagen, the two men became friends about 25 years ago while they were officers in the Antioch Police Department.
Butler left law enforcement in the late 1990s.
Wielsch has been working with the state Department of Justice for the past 12 years and was the supervisor for the Central Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team, also known as CNET or CCCNET.
The team is one of dozens of drug enforcement task forces throughout the state that are run through the justice department.
Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Jun Fernandez characterized Wielsch and Butler's alleged activity as "a sophisticated scheme" and said Wielsch used his access as a law enforcement officer to steal drugs from the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office evidence locker and from CNET and then gave them to Butler to sell back out onto the streets.
"This was certainly not a sophisticated scheme," Wielsch's attorney Michael Cardoza said. "It was very simple."
He said it only involved between $5,000 and $10,000.
According to Cardoza, Wielsch has been "extremely remorseful" and allegedly confessed to many of the crimes he has been charged with. He has been cooperating with investigators since his arrest, Cardoza said.
"He accepted responsibility for these charges," Cardoza said.
He said Wielsch's cooperation "speaks to his character and to how he's going to meet these charges."
William Gagen, who is representing Butler, however, said that Wielsch's alleged cooperation with investigators seemed to him to be self-serving and to unfairly place more of the blame on Butler.
"Clearly there's been an abuse of trust by a high-ranking police officer," Gagen said.
He acknowledged that Butler and Wielsch knew each other and had been friends for many years, but said that Wielsch was the one who had access to the drugs, not Butler.
He said he was still reviewing the evidence in the case, and did not yet know the extent of Butler's involvement in the alleged scheme.
Cardoza said Wielsch had been facing health and financial problems, but he had no idea what made him risk his entire career for what he characterized as such a small amount of money.
"As human beings we make mistakes," Cardoza said. "We have to face them and take responsibility for them."
There have been questions about how this case will impact the credibility of CNET and of how many CNET cases it could jeopardize.
Cardoza, however, claimed that the only cases that would be affected would be those from which Wielsch allegedly stole the drugs.
This case "does not affect the integrity of the whole unit," Cardoza said. "This is an individual person."
During the arraignment, Contra Costa County Judge Nancy Davis Stark reduced Wielsch's bail from $1 million to $400,000.
Gagen asked that the judge hear arguments about reducing Butler's bail, which is set at $900,000, at a later date.