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)
[ chapter eight ]
An Explosive Revelation
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 marijuana 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.
[ chapter nine ]
Cortez Calls in the Cavalry
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 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.