A former San Ramon police officer accused of involvement in a Contra Costa County police scandal pleaded guilty today to all charges against him in federal court. Louis Lombardi, 39, pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Oakland this morning to four misdemeanor counts for stealing thousands of dollars in cash and property during searches of suspects’ homes and to five counts for possessing and selling drugs and stolen firearms while he worked on the Central Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, or CNET. He faces a maximum sentence of more than 60 years in federal prison.
The Discovery Bay resident was first arrested on similar state charges in front of the San Ramon Police Department last May. The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office turned the case over to federal investigators over the summer. Also charged in both state and federal court in the scandal are former CNET Cmdr.
Norman Wielsch, 50, former Antioch police officer and private investigator Christopher Butler, 49, and former Danville police Officer Stephen Tanabe, 48. A grand jury indicted Wielsch and Butler last August on charges of stealing from a federally financed program, selling marijuana and methamphetamine stolen from police evidence lockers and extorting money from workers at an illegal massage parlor that the pair allegedly established.
Tanabe is accused of selling steroids and was allegedly involved in a “dirty DUI” scheme in which Butler’s employees targeted men in bars, got them drunk and sent them back on the road, where Tanabe arrested them, according to court documents. All, including Lombardi, pleaded not guilty to the state charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hartley West told the court this morning that between 2005 and 2009, Lombardi stole an estimated $40,000 in cash and valuables from suspects’ homes during CNET searches. Today, Lombardi admitted that during four searches between March 2008 and November 2010, he pocketed thousands of dollars in cash, along with jewelry, narcotics, and at one home, a bottle of whiskey and a pair of sunglasses. He said that between May 2009 and late 2010, he plotted with Wielsh and Butler to establish a marijuana grow house and told the pair he knew a contact in Arizona who could sell the drugs. When Wielsh gave the defendant a half-pound of marijuana, Lombardi shipped the drugs to Arizona to be sold and pocketed part of the proceeds, he said. He said that in May 2010, he gave two ounces of methamphetamine to an informant to sell and split the profits with Wielsch. Lombardi also admitted to using CNET funds in August 2009 to buy two stolen guns from a drug informant, stashing the firearms in a lockbox in his car, and later in his bedroom closet, where investigators found them last May.
Lombardi told the court he later accepted a 9-mm pistol from Butler as payment for doing surveillance work for his private investigation company. Butler later advised him not to sell the gun, since it was stolen. After learning of Butler’s arrest in February 2011, the defendant threw the gun into the Discovery Bay Delta, he said. Moments after entering his plea this morning, Lombardi was taken into custody by a U.S. Marshal. When asked what prompted his client to break laws he’d spent years enforcing, defense attorney Dirk Manoukian said only Lombardi could explain his motive, but noted that police officers are often tempted to take advantage of their position to commit crimes.
“Louis was in a place in his life when he was not strong enough to pass up those temptations,” he said. But he said that in accepting the plea deal, Lombardi is taking full responsibility for the crimes he’s committed. As part of the deal, he would likely testify against his alleged co-conspirators in the scandal if the case goes to trial, the attorney said. “He wants to move forward in his life and he knows to do that, he has to pay the piper,” Manoukian said. That could mean serving more than 60 years in federal prison if the judge decides to seek the maximum penalty for all charges, although the attorney declined to speculate on a possible sentence. However, he said, “When you’re going to be housed in a facility that you spent 20 years filling up, there are some real concerns.” For now, Lombardi is being held in a federal facility as he awaits sentencing, which is set for April 18.
Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office has another active case against Lombardi, who was arrested last September on suspicion of spousal abuse and making terrorist threats.
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