OAKLAND, California — A disgraced former head of an elite Northern California drug task force was sentenced Monday to 14 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to stealing drugs from evidence lockers and trying to sell them.
Norman Wielsch received the term after apologizing for his actions and seeking mercy in a statement to the judge, saying health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his job sent him into a "downward spiral of self-destruction."
"He was crushed," defense attorney Raymond Erlach said after the sentencing. "In Norm's mind, he's being unfairly singled out because he's a cop."
Wielsch, 51, pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine and to charges of theft from programs receiving government funds, the Contra Costa Times reported (http://bit.ly/19Xed2J).
He led the now-defunct Central Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, an elite multi-agency unit that conducted drug raids and shut down prostitution rings. The Department of Justice program that had been staffed by local officers was suspended indefinitely as authorities launched a police-corruption probe that resulted in the arrest of officers from Danville and San Ramon.
Wielsch asked for leniency in his declaration to the judge and cited PTSD, along with diseases that he and his daughter suffer from.
"If I am allowed, I would like to speak to police academies and to police departments about the importance of getting help when the depression or nightmares begin and to resist the 'I'm a strong cop, I don't need help' excuse," Wielsch wrote. "My doctor and family begged me to seek psychiatric help. I was the big macho cop. I didn't need help."
Wielsch also wrote that prior to his offenses, he gave 24 years of honest hard work and later asked the judge to "Please have mercy on me."
In 2011, the FBI arrested Wielsch and private investigator Christopher Butler after a grand jury indicted them on the drug charges, as well as charges of operating a brothel and conducting phony sting operations to rob prostitutes.
Those arrests came after one of Butler's most trusted employees wore a concealed wire and recorded the two men making a drug deal. A video appeared to show Wielsch counting money and airing his concerns about selling confiscated drugs.
Butler pleaded guilty in September to similar criminal charges. He said his crimes involved several other officers, including Wielsch.
Butler told authorities that Wielsch aided him when he opened a massage parlor in Pleasant Hill to front for a brothel. Butler added Wielsch shared in the profits and used his status as a law enforcement official to protect the operation, while ordering raids on competing brothels.
Butler is in prison serving an eight-year sentence.