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Defendants in Police Corruption Case Plead Not Guilty

Four former police officers charged in the scandal appeared in court today.

Patch Staff and Bay City News – , the most recent suspect arrested in connection with a police corruption case in Contra Costa County, pleaded not guilty Thursday to several charges related to the alleged conspiracy.

Lombardi, 38, a former San Ramon police officer, has been charged along with former Central Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team Cmdr. , 50; former private investigator and Antioch police Officer , 49; and former Danville police Officer Stephen Tanabe, 47.

The four men appeared in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Walnut Creek Thursday morning, where Wielsch, Butler and Tanabe re-entered not guilty pleas to a 38-count amended complaint.

Charges against the men include conspiracy and the sale and possession of marijuana, methamphetamine and steroids. The group is also accused of possession of assault weapons, embezzlement, receipt of stolen property and bribery. (For a timeline of events, click .)

The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office filed charges against Wielsch and Butler in February, accusing Wielsch of stealing drugs from law enforcement evidence lockers and working with Butler to have them sold back onto the streets.

Within the next three months, investigators said they uncovered evidence that Tanabe and Lombardi were also involved in some of Wielsch and Butler's alleged criminal activities. Some of those crimes were allegedly committed while the men were serving as law enforcement officers.

Since their arrests, Wielsch, Tanabe and Lombardi have resigned from their positions as law enforcement officers, and Butler has surrendered his private investigator's license.

They are scheduled to return to Contra Costa County court on Oct. 13 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.

Meanwhile, the district attorney's office has turned the case over to federal investigators. And attorneys for the defendants confirmed that a federal grand jury had been convened in the case.

Attorney Daniel Russo, who represents Tanabe, said he was encouraged by the federal investigation, since his client's only involvement was in connection with drunken driving arrests.

According to the charges, Butler allegedly arranged to have attractive women lure men, usually husbands of clients who were involved in legal divorces, to various East Bay bars for drinks. When the men were about to drive away, court records say, Butler called Tanabe and had them arrested for drunken driving.

Russo said that when Tanabe pulled the men over, they were in fact legally drunk.

He said he believed the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office would potentially be more objective than the district attorney's office because they don't already have working relationships with the law enforcement agencies involved.

Michael Cardoza, who represents Wielsch, said he believed the amount of drugs involved in the case was too small to qualify for federal charges, but the men could face federal conspiracy charges.

Russo and Cardoza both said they believe more people will  be arrested once the investigation is complete.

Dirk Manoukian, who represents Lombardi, said that while he believed turning the case over to federal investigators was the right decision for District Attorney Mark Peterson to make, it didn't necessarily benefit his client.

Federal conspiracy laws have a broader reach and stricter sentencing guidelines, Manoukian said.

All three attorneys agreed, however, that federal investigators would be more objective, or at least that there would be no appearance of a conflict of interest.

Butler's attorney, William Gagen, did not comment on the case today.

All four defendants are free on bail.

WC E June 23, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Creeps. Dirty cop should be ashamed. The jury will decide.

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