In 2010 when Contra Costa County’s Diablo Magazine Senior Writer Pete Crooks received a pitch from a Beverly Hills publicist about a local private investigator with his group of soccer moms turned P.I., and their soon-to-be released reality TV series, little did he know he would uncover and expose one of the largest police corruption cases in Northern California.
“It was such a sexy pitch,” said Crooks. “The P.I., Chris Butler, had this belief that soccer moms had this sixth sense for right and wrong. All these skills that moms have were great for investigative work.”
What developed later was a 10-hour long ride-along surveillance of a supposed cheating boyfriend as part of his feature. However an exposing email that he received days later stating the whole investigation was staged to get publicity and draw interest for the possible TV series inspired Crooks to go from entertainment writer to investigative reporter, subsequently revealing dirty cops setting up DUI arrests, selling narcotics from evidence rooms, robbing prostitutes, as well as at one point running a massage parlor.
Not only did Crooks reveal the criminal activity, but also showed that mainstream media programs such as Dr. Phil, the Today Show, and People Magazine had also been duped with their features on Butler and his group of mommy associates for the same reason – to get noticed for reality TV.
At the beginning of this year, Crooks, along with BenBella Books, released a 320-page page turner that takes place along the 580-680 corridor titled, The Setup: A True Story of Dirty Cops, Soccer Moms, and Reality TV.
“It never crossed my mind that it (the ride-along) was a hoax,” said Crooks, who said the magazine piece was originally accepted because the ‘moms’ were basically the demographic as many of Diablo’s readership. “I mean, it turns out there were nine adults that conspired to set me up.”
Crooks said the initial email he received from the person, who later went on to be a California Department of Justice informant into the corruption case, was a ‘gut punch.’
“It all started to make sense,” Crooks said, referring to what he thought were shoddy surveillance methods. “All these road flares I got on the ride-along were justified.”
Crooks became “obsessed” as his investigation into what happened started to unravel with Butler as he cultivated a cyber-relationship with the informant.
As the rapport developed, the informant revealed information that Butler, an ex-Antioch cop, was in cahoots with certain San Ramon and Danville police officers to frame clients’ husbands for DUI arrests for divorce and child custody proceedings.
As Crooks delved further he received more confidence from his cyber-source who then told him that Butler had C-4 explosives and was dealing drugs with the Department of Justice’s Norm Wielsch, who headed the Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team.
“It was a curveball and I felt we needed to get a hold of law enforcement,” Crooks said. “There were drugs, C-4, and very serious activity going on with Wielsch at CNET.”
Crooks, noting the danger of the situation, arranged through a trusted law enforcement friend for the informant to get in contact with reliable DOJ agents.
The story later reveals that the informant was a disgruntled associate with Butler’s team who was upset about being left out of the pending reality series.
“I think I got this info because I was paying attention to someone who needed attention and can’t stand it if someone else is getting it,” said Crooks. “(This person) wanted their chance. Twenty years ago you got famous on TV because you paid your dues as a newscaster or talented actor, but the ’02 writers’ strike caused ‘reality TV’ and the nastiest nobodies got their fame.”
Crooks, a film noir buff, tells the tale in his book in a straight-forward, sometimes sarcastic with a profanity or two, gregarious voice that makes the book a quick read.
“The voice of the book had to be down and dirty,” Crooks told 209 Magazine. “I had prostitutes, drug dealers, snitches and the narrative language had to be alike with these scumbags.”
Crooks ultimately said he wanted the ride the reader takes to be, “can you believe what these people are doing?”
Look for Crooks to be making Central Valley appearances to promote “The Setup: A True Story of Dirty Cops, Soccer Moms, and Reality TV” (BenBella Books, $24.95) in upcoming months.