A former Contra Costa County drug task force commander pleaded guilty today in federal court to a number of felony charges stemming from a police corruption case that scandalized the Bay Area. Norman Wielsch, 51, of Concord, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Oakland to charges including narcotics possession, distribution and sales, theft from a federally funded program, and civil rights violations including conducting illegal searches and seizures. Jodi Hernandez reports.
During a sometimes emotional hearing, former Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team commander Norman Wielsch on Wednesday pleaded guilty to drug dealing in federal court.
Wielsch, 51, arrived at court with his wife, daughter and several family members - including his father who came to court in a wheelchair.
Wielsch said he was guilty of narcotics possession, distribution and sales, theft from a federally funded program, and civil rights violations including conducting illegal searches and seizures.
He had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, and changed his plea today.
He used a tissue to wipe off sweat as he waited for his case to be called, knowing he would be taken immediately into custody and will be behind bars for years. He plead guilty to to five counts of drug- and corruption-related charges and agreed to pay a minimum of $150,000 in fines. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 19. Federal sentencing guidelines call for between 14 and 17 years, but his lawyer, Michael Cardoza, said he would argue for ten.
He explained to the court how he got involved in the high-profile East Bay crime spree that began in 2010 when he said he stole marijuana that was due to be destroyed. He then went down the list of crimes he committed. During the court hearing, Wielsch apologized to the law enforcement community for his conduct. He said he tarnished the badge.
"Most of all I'd like to say I'm sorry to my dad who I let down and brought disgrace to my family name. I'm very sorry," Wielsch said sobbing.
Wielsch had faced 11 felony counts and life in prison prior to the plea bargain. "I take full responsibility for my actions," he said.
Wielsch was a CNET commander when he and former Concord private investigator Christopher Butler were caught on tape making a drug deal. CNET has since disbanded.
The police-corruption investigation led to the arrests of two other Contra Costa County law enforcement officers. Butler was sentenced in May after pleading guilty to six charges, including extortion, robbery and conspiring to deal drugs.
Butler had achieved some fame by hooking a reality TV show contract and hiring "Mommy P.I.s," attractive women whose job was to lure men into cheating on their wives. And in court, he admitted to bribing a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy, Stephen Tanabe, with cocaine and a gun to make drunk driving arrests of men he was investigating. These have since been dubbed, "dirty DUI" stings, and Butler has earned the nickname, the "Dirty P.I."
Butler testified that his former squad commander - Wielsch - gave him marijuana and steroids, which he then gave to a colleague at his private eye firm. He also said he drove Wielsch to various spots where they took 586 grams of methamphetamine from evidence lockers. One of those pounds, he said, sold for $9,800. He admitted to taking $30,000 worth of drugs.
Butler's sentence was much stiffer than what another associate received. Former San Ramon police office Louis Lombardi was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the scandal. Lombardi plead guilty to stealing $40,000 in cash and guns while serving search warrants.
Former Danville officer Stephen Tanabe is now the only person involved in the case that has not plead guilty. He has plead not guilty and awaits a trial date.