WALNUT CREEK (CBS 5) - A disgraced former police commander was back in state court Thursday morning, along with several other co-defendants, facing state charges from the Contra Costa District Attorney's office, despite federal officials taking over the case six months ago.
Norman Wielsch, of the now-defunct Contra Costa County Narcotics Task Force, appeared before Judge William M. Kolin in a Walnut Creek courtroom at 8:30 Thursday morning.
Christopher Butler, a private investigator, also appeared before the judge along with former Danville cop Steven Tanabe and former San Ramon officer Louis Lombardi.
After a brief hearing, the judge ordered the men to return to a Martinez courtroom on February 8, 2012 for a readiness conference. The judge said a preliminary hearing will likely take place in the first week of March.
Prosecutor Jun Fernandez told CBS 5 that the case was proceeding in state court, in part, because it hasn't been resolved in federal court and that the feds, as a matter of policy, are not sharing the proceedings of their case with the county.
"We have our own independent case that needs to go forward," Fernandez said.
Wielsch's attorney, Michael Cardoza, questioned the move.
"Usually the state dismisses the charges because it costs a lot of money to handle a case that's already being prosecuted at the federal level," said Cardoza. "That's not being done here for whatever reasons. Those reasons are only known to the District Attorney of Contra Costa County."
"I've been told that (the Contra Costa County DA's office) may want us to plead in the state court so they get their pound of flesh," continued Cardoza. "But whatever time my client gets in federal court will be more than sufficient to assuage any concern the state prosecutor may have. So why would they need us to plead to something? If push comes to shove, we may tell them to take us to trial."
Tanabe was charged in state court for drug and bribery crimes, but is the only one of the four who has not been charged in federal court.
While Wielsch and Butler were initially brought up on 38 state charges – from reselling confiscated drugs to bribery - Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Petersen later announced on June 3rd he was handing their cases and those of the two other cops over to the feds, citing budget constraints and conflict of interest concerns.
On August 15th, a federal grand jury indicted Wielsch and Butler on narcotics charges, civil rights violations, extortion and added allegations that the two ran a brothel in Pleasant Hill.
Lombardi was arraigned in federal court on October 25th for charges regarding stolen cash, jewelry and drugs.
Back in June, Petersen announced, "It is my belief that the people of this county are best served if we enlist the United States Attorney's Office and federal Bureau of Investigations" as he handed the case over to the feds.
At the time, the district attorney made it clear he was not dropping any charges - leaving open the possibility of continuing a parallel prosecution in state court.
All of the defendants remain free on bail.
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