The Setup

Chris Butler wanted to be a media celebrity and a badass, until he made what turned out to be a big mistake. He asked Diablo to write about him.

(page 5 of 8)

It had been 10 days since R. Rutherford first contacted me. I was trying to figure out who the informant was and, more important, why he or she was willing to provide such damaging information about Butler’s business practices. Was it someone Butler had burned in an infidelity sting? An angry former employee? Someone who wanted to derail the reality show? Or just a loyal Diablo reader who didn’t want to see our brand tainted by the stink of a shady character?

I got my answer the morning of January 13, when I found a new message from R. Rutherford waiting in my in-box.

“I am hesitant to tell you this. Mr. Butler is involved in some serious criminal activity right now. [Butler] is very well connected in the police community and with the Narcotics Task Force. I am not sure who to contact about this, and I assure you it is serious.”

I was startled, way more than I had been when R. Rutherford had claimed that my ride-along was fake. I replied to the e-mail, asking
for more information about the accusations of criminal activity.

R. Rutherford wrote back:

“[Butler] is selling large amounts of R. Rutherford sent Diablo's Peter Crooks this picture of two pounds of marijuanamarijuana along with other drugs (prescription Xanax and steroids) that have been confiscated by the Contra Costa County Task Force. The commander of the task force is taking the drugs from raids and giving them to Chris to move. They even have a couple pounds of C-4 plastic explosive.”


I put “Commander Contra Costa Narcotics Task Force” into Google and found the name Norm Wielsch. I then Googled Wielsch’s name and found dozens of news stories with headlines such as “$30 million of marijuana plants seized in Brentwood,” and Wielsch’s statements about the arrests. I even found a 2005 Diablo article in which Wielsch commented about the problem of painkiller addiction for suburban moms.
The idea that the head of the narcotics task force could be seizing drugs from dealers, sending those dealers to prison, and then putting the drugs back into the community made me sick to my stomach. Even more worrisome was the possibility of C-4 plastic explosives—a material considerably more powerful than TNT—getting into the hands of the wrong people. I spent another sleepless night visualizing horrific events. Just five days earlier, Jared Loughner had allegedly shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others with a Glock 19 semiautomatic.

“It’s a good thing that maniac didn’t have a couple of pounds of C-4,” I thought, wondering if there were any Jared Loughners in the East Bay.

Right then, I knew that I had to try to help R. Rutherford. I didn’t even know who this person was, and yet I was being asked to help. My gut told me that R. Rutherford was telling the truth.

When morning came, I picked up the phone and called Cortez.

When R. Rutherford asked for help—to be put in contact with a trustworthy person in local law enforcement—the first and only person who came to mind was Cortez. I have known this person for two decades and have personally witnessed Cortez exhibit acts of extreme bravery, courage, and integrity as a law enforcement professional and also as a parent.

As with so many of my favorite friendships, it had been too long since I had reached out to say hello. Cortez and I met for coffee on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, January 17.

Cortez sipped a cappuccino as I told the story of my wild ride-along, the original e-mail that R. Rutherford had sent about it being a hoax, and the recent revelation that there might be far more frightening implications. I told Cortez that R. Rutherford had given me solid information about my apparently fraudulent ride-along, and I did not believe that the accusations of serious criminal activity were a spiteful smear attack.

“I truly believe that my contact is frightened for their life,” I told Cortez. “This person has no idea who to talk to—and certainly can’t go to the head of the Central Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team.”

My friend pondered the scenario. “You really don’t want to go to anyone local,” said Cortez. “Even if they’re not dirty, they could leak information, which could compromise the situation.”

Fortunately, Cortez knew what to do. “I want you to get a phone number from your contact,” Cortez told me. “I’m going to make a call.”

The next day, Cortez reached a trusted source, and we passed along R. Rutherford’s contact information. It was now up to R. Rutherford to make the case to the right people. Then, Cortez told me, “You might not ever hear from your contact again. Once they become a confidential informant for undercover law enforcement, you probably won’t hear anything until the news that there has been an arrest.”
It was an eerie feeling, as if R. Rutherford was being thrown into a bottomless pit. But R. Rutherford seemed up for it, and for the right reasons. So I waited. And worried.

While I waited, I returned to my Rubik’s cube of ride-along research. I reread my notes, relurked over a thousand Facebook profiles, and reread and rewatched every media story about Butler and his business. While reviewing the March 15, 2010, People magazine story, a detail caught my attention that I had not noticed before. In the article, the P.I. Moms were following a cheater driving a Mustang. I wondered if Butler had scripted that as well, and if the car was Butler’s black Mustang, the car Carl Marino was driving during my ride-along in Napa. And what about all the other press stories? Had they been scripted also? As I looked at them, they all seemed more than a little fishy.

As I try to do every January, I took a week off from work and bought a pass to the annual Noir City Film FestivalPoster for the 9th Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival at the Castro Theatre. Night after night, I watched double features of crime films from the 1940s—movies about double-crossing dames, cops gone bad, and decent folks whose one mistake sent them into a downward spiral of despair. The festival’s theme was Who’s Crazy Now?

Each film featured characters that were pretty much losing their mind on the silver screen.

“I’m living in a film noir,” I realized, and I wondered how it was going to end.


Reader Comments:
Mar 21, 2011 03:25 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Loved your article! It's about time Chris Butler's true colors were exposed. Karma has ruled. He is a sociopath and hopefully will be convicted and stay in jail for quite some time and nobody else falls victim his evilness.

Mar 21, 2011 10:23 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

excellent article. glad you uncovere this dirtbag and helped put him away. glad there are still some people in this world who care enough to put themselves out there to protect the rest of us. enjoy your vacation in an undisclosed definately deserve it.

Mar 21, 2011 12:57 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Diablo Magazine -- you should have hired a REAL, ethical, talented P.I. to background Butler before you got snookered. Stick to what you do best - puff pieces on interior designers and chefs, and high-society event coverage. Leave the "investigative journalism" to real reporters. Just a suggestion.

Mar 21, 2011 03:09 pm
 Posted by  sinner

OMG did you go on a wild ride Who can you trust nowadays i hope this does not give Law enforcement a black eye.It is so very sad and sickening Are you an Investigative reporter I might have a story for you.Someone in the community you trust who is so very Evil more like a Wolf in sheep's clothing.Your story is great to bad it's true

Mar 21, 2011 03:49 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Mr. Peter Crooks you are a HERO, I hope they award you a medal for this hard work and some sort of compensation. This makes me sick and Tanabe and Butler should FRY.

Mar 21, 2011 05:19 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

very cool uncovering this scam! It shows the quality and integrity of Diablo Magazine.

Mar 21, 2011 06:01 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Excellent work and article!!

Mar 21, 2011 06:27 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I know one of the P.I. moms, I'm really disappointed it was all for show, I thought she had landed a pretty good gig. I'm glad that likes of scum like Butler got busted (I hope he gets the max).

Mar 21, 2011 08:36 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

...before Diablo got snookered? Diablo wasn't snookered as you claim. Did you even read the story before posting you moron? Diablo was the only media that didn't buy Butler's story. Grow up and learn to read - hater!

Mar 22, 2011 02:26 am
 Posted by  gatorlily

What an interesting read! This would make a great movie (truth is stranger than fiction). I can't believe that a guy who women was trusting to help with their marital problems was such a sleeze bag. I wondered if he ever invented results to make himself look better to a client. Thanks for your hard work on a great article.

Add your comment: