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California

Coming clean on ‘dirty DUIs’ in Contra Costa County

David Dutcher met Sharon on Match.com in late 2008, a few months after separating from his wife. “We had a lot in common,” he recalled. Sharon loved four-wheel-drive trucks and sports.

They met for coffee, then dinner. Sharon was tall, slender, blond and beautiful. She moaned that she had not had sex in a long time. She told him he had large, strong hands and wondered if that portended other things. She described his kisses as “yummy.”

“It felt a lot like Christmas,” said Dutcher, 49, a tall, burly engineer with wavy red hair.

On their second date, Sharon suggested they join one of her friends “who was partying because she had closed a real estate deal,” Dutcher said. They drove to an Italian restaurant in a suburb near San Francisco. Sharon’s friend, “Tash,” was a loud and raucous brunet who was pounding down shots.

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The women fiddled with Dutcher’s tie and massaged his neck and shoulders. The brunet unbuttoned her blouse to reveal generous cleavage. “I am way over my head with these girls,” he remembered thinking. “I hadn’t been out dating in a while.”

Sharon had trouble finishing her tequila shots and asked Dutcher to help, he said. When the women went to the bathroom, two men at the other end of the bar peppered Dutcher with questions.

“Are you a celebrity?” they wanted to know.

The women suggested going to a house with a hot tub that Tash was housesitting, Dutcher said. He followed them in his truck. Within a few minutes, a flashing red light appeared in his rearview mirror. The officer said he had been swerving.

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Three months later, Dutcher’s wife filed a motion in their divorce case, telling the court that her soon-to-be former husband had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and that she feared for their children’s safety. The judge ordered that Dutcher’s visits be supervised.

Then, earlier this year, Dutcher received a letter from Contra Costa County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Harold W. Jewett. It contained a transcript of a police interview with Christopher Butler, a private detective and the subject of a state and federal criminal investigation.

“I hope in some small way this information will help you recoup both rights and dignities lost in one of the most deplorable legal practices I have ever heard of,” Jewett wrote.

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Dutcher had been duped.

The women who’d ogled him worked for Butler’s detective agency. Sharon, who told Dutcher she was a divorcee employed by an investment firm, actually was a former Las Vegas showgirl.

A man who once worked for Butler had blown the whistle. He told authorities Butler arranged for men to be arrested for drunk driving at the behest of their ex-wives and their divorce lawyers — and that entrapment was only one of many alleged misdeeds.

Butler, 49, a former police officer, was arrested in February. In addition to setting up at least five DUIs, he sold drugs for law enforcement officers and helped them open and operate a brothel, collecting and delivering the profits, according to prosecutors and a statement Butler gave them after his arrest.

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In the March 15 statement obtained by The Times, Butler said his accomplices reasoned that they could shield their illegal businesses because any complaints would be investigated by a state-run narcotics task force, which one of the officers headed.

The alleged crimes implicated three different law enforcement agencies — the San Ramon and Danville police departments and the narcotics task force — and took place in Contra Costa County, a collection of mostly middle-class communities that stretch from the East Bay shoreline opposite San Francisco to upscale suburbs inland.

Jewett called the scandal a “sordid drama” that overwhelmed the resources of the county and raised potential conflicts for police departments being asked to investigate their own.

In May, the FBI took over the probe, interviewing Dutcher and other ex-husbands arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. A federal grand jury indicted Butler and two of the officers in August and September. The charges included drug dealing, running a prostitution business and illegal possession of a weapon.

More indictments are expected. A third officer, implicated by Butler in the DUIs, faces state charges of accepting bribes to make arrests.

Stunned prosecutors combed through pending criminal cases and eventually dismissed charges in at least 20 DUI and vice crimes, tainted by the involvement of the accused officers. Two of them had once worked with Butler on the police force of the East Bay city of Antioch.

Butler also apparently hoodwinked reporters. His agency received national attention for employing gumshoe “housewives” who juggled soccer games with undercover spying. People magazine and Dr. Phil did stories. An East Bay magazine reporter who went on a ride-along with Butler later discovered that everything he had witnessed had been staged.

In what prosecutors now call “dirty DUIs,” Butler paid his decoys $25 an hour for four-hour minimums. The women worked in pairs. One drank heavily with the target and the other drove.

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Butler videotaped the encounters from a nearby table. When the man got into his vehicle, Butler tipped off police. The last DUI setup occurred in January.

Susan Dutcher, a substitute schoolteacher, said in a sworn declaration that she paid Butler $2,500 to obtain evidence that her husband drove while drinking. She insisted she did not authorize Butler to have him arrested because she did not want to imperil his job and his ability to pay child support.

Her lawyer’s paralegal, who had recommended Butler, “made this all seem completely legal and as though it was standard practice” in divorce cases, she said.

Once Dutcher got into his truck, Butler called a police officer friend to report Dutcher had been drinking. Butler maintained the officer was not paid by him and did not know Dutcher had been set up. The officer, who has not been charged, later went to work for Butler.

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Dutcher, an avionics engineer who works on rockets, said he was dumbfounded when he learned what happened. After his arrest, he could not get the heightened security clearance he needed for certain jobs.

Driven by anger and embarrassment, he contacted others he had learned had been set up, including Declan Woods, a contractor arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2007. Woods’ ex-wife was represented by Mary Nolan, the same divorce attorney who worked for Susan Dutcher.

Butler told prosecutors the attorney referred him to Susan Dutcher because she was thrilled with his performance in the Woods case. In a sworn court declaration, Nolan denied having anything to do with hiring Butler in the Dutcher case; she could not be reached for comment about Woods’ arrest.

Woods’ ordeal began with a call for a kitchen remodel estimate. The prospective client turned out to be an attractive, flirtatious brunet. She told him she was new in town, a writer, and wondered what he was doing that night. He said he planned to grab dinner at a local cafe.

“Hey, this chick is picking up on me,” Woods joked to his business partner after the two men met with her.

The woman showed up with a friend that evening. They went to a nearby bar, where the three drank lemon drops.

Woods said in an interview that the brunet was so aggressive he twice pushed her off his lap. Calm yourself, calm yourself, he remembered telling her. Looking back, he said, he should have realized something was wrong.

“Things like that don’t happen to blokes like me,” said the British-born Woods. “But the alcohol kicks in, you are having a good time, and you think, what the hell.”

The women suggested going to a house with a hot tub. Woods hopped into his truck and followed them. He was pulled over almost immediately. “I have been set up,” he remembered telling the officer.

Prosecutors offered to help Dutcher and Woods remove their DUI convictions and approved the dismissal of charges against the three other men. Dutcher obtained a court order last month to expunge his conviction.

Even though the men had been drinking, prosecutors said Butler’s stings violated a little-used 19th century law that makes it a felony to conspire to subject another person to arrest. The female decoys have not been charged.

Woods said the arrest hurt his business and cost him thousands of dollars in fines. His ex-wife declined to discuss the case but said she did not authorize Butler to have Woods arrested.

Dutcher has worked long hours seeking vindication. After spending nearly $30,000 on an attorney, he decided to represent himself in an attempt to overturn the divorce and custody agreement he signed last year. He said his ex-wife had him “over the barrel” after the DUI.

M. Pamela Lauser, Susan Dutcher’s current lawyer, doubts Dutcher will succeed. “Nobody held a gun to his head,” she said of his drunk driving arrest. “Nobody forced him to drink.... The guy was drunk and he was driving. How is that a dirty DUI?”

Dutcher agreed he “made a terrible mistake.”

A trial date on the divorce settlement is set for Nov. 17.

maura.dolan@latimes.com.


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