Chris Butler (private investigator)

Chris Butler (private investigator)

Christopher "Chris" Butler was a private investigator, and former Antioch, California police officer, who founded a firm named Private Investigations, Inc., based in Concord, California. After gaining notoriety in People magazine, the Today Show and Dr. Phil, along with a television show on Lifetime, he was arrested for selling illegal drugs.


P.I. Moms

Butler used the name "P.I. Moms" to identify and promote his use of women who were not generally licensed as private investigators (and thus ordinary "Moms"), whom he recruited from local communities.[1]


Butler was arrested on February 16, 2011 along with Central Contra Costa County California Narcotic Enforcement Team Commander Norman Wielsch. [1] The two men were accused of selling police-confiscated crystal methamphetamine, anabolic steroids, and marijuana. [1] These items had been seized as evidence in unrelated investigations and arrests. The materials had been stolen from police evidence lockers. Both men were indicted on 28 felony counts, and await trial as of the spring of 2011. [1]

The counts include embezzlement, second-degree burglar and conspiracy, as well as the drug-related charges. [2] Butler's bail was set at $840,000., and Wielsch's was set at $660,000. [2] Upon arrest, both were held in the Contra Costa county jail, located in Martinez, California. [2]

Dirty DUIs

As recorded in published transcripts of his interviews with police detectives on May 4, 2011, Butler admitted that he hired female decoys to encourage a "target" male to drink alcohol in quantity sufficient to exceed the legal limit to drive an automobile. [3] The men were those he was operating against in divorce-case-related surveillance operations his firm had been hired to undertake. His decoy women would approach a man and engaged him in conversation and drinking. The man would then shortly thereafter be arrested by a road patrol police officer for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). [3] This officer had been notified via telephone of suspect driving behavior by Butler or another of his employees, immediately following the man's departure from the location of the "sting" operation.[3]

The phrase "dirty DUI scheme" has been used in press reports to describe the practice. A number of the arrests and convictions resulting from the practice have been expunged and overturned, along with apologies from the senior deputy district attorney of Contra Costa county, Hal Jewett, whose office prosecuted the original cases. Jewett was quoted in his cover letter to one man arrested in a Butler "sting" operation as saying the drunken driving arrest was "one of the most deplorable legal practices I have ever heard of."[4]

Media coverage

Butler's organization was featured in People magazine [5], the Today Show[1] and Dr. Phil [6]. The "cases" that were showcased in these media appearances had been staged using paid actors and friends.[1] All of the investigators involved were in on the ruse.[1] None of the reporting parties discovered that they were fake and reported them as fact.[1] Using these media appearances as marketing and with the help of a Beverly Hills public relations company, Butler signed a contract to be part of a reality television show on Lifetime Television, featuring the "P.I. Moms." [7]

The filming of the show was a disaster. Butler had sold the show on the premise that he could generate real cases for the show, but ultimately could not make good on that promise.[1] The entire show had been sold on fake premises including the fact that the "P.I. Moms" were not real investigators to begin with.[1] The only requirement Butler used to employ them was that they be moms. [1] They had little or no training and experience at all, but Butler promoted them as highly trained investigators.[1] The television program completed filming what they could and had set an air date before the arrests.[1] Once the arrests were made, all plans to air the show were cancelled. [1]

Prior to the filming of the reality show, Butler contacted Diablo Magazine, in an effort to advertise and gain business from the demographic that the magazine served. [8] As admitted by several participants in the actions, Butler staged an entire "ride along" for the magazine's reporter, Peter Crooks. [8] This fake "case" was executed on 9/11/2010 and included a complex journey into the Napa Valley wine country tailing a suspected cheating fiance and his mistress. [8] The participants were all actors, including the crying "client". [8] The "PI's" involved were also all in on the ruse. [8]

Crooks was totally convinced, just as all of the previous media sources that had been duped by Butler, that his experience was real and went on to write the story.[8] Before he could publish it, however, the reporter was notified by a source that called himself "Ronald Rutherford" that the entire case had been staged. [8] In several subsequent emails from "Rutherford", all of the evidence was laid out for the reporter to show that he was trustworthy and that the information was valid. [8] The source told Crooks that he was informing him as a favor so that the magazine could avoid embarrassment. [8]

After Crook's received the e-mail from the source, he immediately contacted Butler and the "PI Moms" who had been on the ride along to question them about it.[8][1] They continued to assert that the "case" was real and admitted nothing to him. Crook's constant calls caused a great amount of havoc in Butler's organization and a great amount of stress on the source himself. "Rutherford" had recently been made aware of the drugs that were being stolen by Narcotics Task Force Commander, Wielsch, and given to Butler to sell.[1] Butler, in turn, was giving the drugs to "Rutherford" who was supposed to sell them elsewhere. [1] "Rutherford" was holding onto the drugs Butler had given him and even had paid Butler with his own money to stall while figuring out who to report it to. [8]

Once aware of this illegal activity, and while trying to find an uncorrupted police source to report it to, "Rutherford" went on to tip off Diablo along with several other innocent people that Butler was trying to set up to have arrested for clients of his P.I. business. [8] "Rutherford" did not want any other innocent people hurt by Butler, knowing that ultimately Butler would be held accountable for his illegal activities. [8] "Rutherford" finally informed Crooks in an email about the drugs in an effort to keep Crooks from constantly contacting the office and possibly blowing his cover, and to request that Crooks help him get into contact with a trusted police source. [8] "Rutherford" was finally put into contact with the proper authorities after a week of waiting and being routed through several other contacts.[8] Crooks' version of the story was featured in Diablo Magazine and on the American Public Radio program This American Life [1]

Informant Carl Marino

"Ronald Rutherford" was later revealed to be Carl Marino, who was Butler's second in command and held the position of Director of Operations for Butler and Associates. [1] Marino, also a former law enforcement officer from New York, had been employed by Butler for over two years and had been involved in all aspects of the PI business, as well as the media stings and the filming of the reality show. [1] Marino, who knew where the drugs were coming from, and realized the seriousness of the illegal activity, ultimately turned Butler and Wielsch into the Department of Justice. [1]

Marino became both the Confidential Informant and the Under Cover agent for the DOJ and secretly video and audio taped a multitude of drug deals as evidence for them over an extended period of time. [1] He also reported all of the other shady activities that Butler and various other police officers were involved in and all of the subsequent arrests were based on the evidence that he provided. [1]

Marino is a successful actor and has a large list of television and movie roles that are credited to him on the Internet Movie Data Base[9].


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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