A sobbing former Contra Costa County drug task force commander was sentenced today to 14 years in federal prison for stealing drug evidence, robbing prostitutes and making phony arrests. Norman Wielsch, 51, of Concord, asked U.S. District Court Judge Saundra Armstrong to “show me as much leniency as possible,” saying that he participated in a Contra Costa County police corruption scheme because he was suffering from depression and post traumatic stress disorder caused by his physical and mental health problems. Armstrong said she agrees that Wielsch faces medical and mental health problems but she’s not persuaded that they caused him to commit the crimes he admitted to when he pleaded guilty to five felony counts on Dec. 5. Armstrong said Wielsch should get a long sentence because of “the gravity of his conduct and his abuse of his position of trust.” He said if Wielsch were given a light sentence, such as being placed on home confinement, it could undermine the public’s confidence in law enforcement officers and its trust of the justice system.
Wielsch pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine, one count of theft from a program receiving federal funds, two counts of conspiracy against civil rights and a robbery count. Six additional charges originally included in the indictment were dropped as a part of his plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Wielsch, the former commander of the now-defunct Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team, admitted to committing a series of crimes between 2009 and 2011 that included stealing marijuana and methamphetamine seized during CNET raids and selling the drugs with the help of Antioch private investigator Christopher Butler. The two previously worked together as Antioch police officers. The former CNET commander admitted that he stole between $30,000 and $70,000 of marijuana and methamphetamine from county evidence lockers and distributed the drugs with Butler.
Wielsch also admitted to teaming up with Butler to target prostitutes and steal cash, cell phones, a computer and other items from them under the guise of making an arrest. He and Butler had scoured Craigslist and other websites in search of their targets and eventually met up with a prostitute and a madam in a San Ramon hotel room in the summer of 2010. Armstrong sentenced Butler to eight years in federal prison last year for his role in the crimes. Wielsch’s plea agreement called for him to be sentenced to at least 10 years and he faced a sentence of up to 17 and one half years. But his attorney, Raymond Erlach, who didn’t represent him at the time of his plea, told Armstrong today that Wielsch should be sentenced to much less than 10 years because “his mental condition was a significant factor in the crimes.” Erlach said Wielsch was so depressed by his physical ailments, which made him weak, at the time he committed his crimes, that he tried to commit suicide at least twice.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hartley West said she agrees that Wielsch suffers from physical and mental health problems but she believes his motivation for committing his crimes was a common one: “greed.” West said Wielsch’s conduct was “egregious” and “a huge abuse of his responsibility.” Erlach said after the hearing that Wielsch was “crushed” by the long sentence issued by Armstrong because “he was really hoping the court would listen to us and grant him some concessions.” He said, “In Norman’s mind, he was unfairly singled out because he was a cop” and he doesn’t think other citizens would have received the same sentence for similar crimes.
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