Friday, March 16, 2012
Lacy Atkins / The Chronicle 2011
Norman Wielsch, former commander of the Central Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team, appears in court in 2011. He allegedly extorted money from a brothel and stole drugs.
A woman who ran a Pleasant Hill brothel told investigators she did so with the approval of central Contra Costa County's top vice cop, and said she also had a sexual encounter with the officer, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle.
Jordi Simms said that after she opened a massage parlor that fronted for a brothel in July 2009, Norman Wielsch, then the commander of the multiagency Central Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team, received weekly payments and protected the business from police raids. The allegations contradict public statements made by Wielsch and his attorney, who have repeatedly denied that the former state Department of Justice agent was involved in the illicit business.
Wielsch's attorney, Michael Cardoza, declined to address Simms' statements directly in an interview this week.
"I'm going to wait until all the evidence is presented in the courtroom," he said.
In August, Wielsch and private investigator Christopher Butler, both 50, were indicted by a federal grand jury on corruption charges, including stealing drugs from police evidence lockers and one count of extortion in connection with the alleged brothel.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Simms, 37, who lives in Concord, made the allegations about Wielsch during two interviews with state Department of Justice agents in February and March 2011. The Chronicle obtained summaries of the agents' interviews.
Simms declined to comment for this article. She was granted immunity from prosecution by the Contra Costa County district attorney's office in exchange for her cooperation.
Her statements to investigators tell the story of a woman who found herself in a unique relationship with Wielsch and benefited from his powerful position within law enforcement.
Met him in a raid
She said she met Wielsch in March 2009 when she was arrested in a prostitution raid at a Walnut Creek residence. She said Wielsch had interviewed her, released her at the scene and issued her a citation to appear in court.
Before her court date, Simms went to work for Butler's investigation agency as a decoy - a woman who would lure cheating husbands into compromising situations that Butler documented for the wives who hired him.
She said she had mentioned the prostitution arrest to Butler, who told her he was good friends with Wielsch and could "work something out."
According to Simms, Wielsch contacted the Contra Costa County district attorney's office on her behalf and appeared with her in court in July 2009. Records show that her prostitution charge was reduced to a misdemeanor for disturbing the peace, to which she pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to 60 hours of community service.
Simms "is convinced the only reason she received leniency in court was because of Wielsch's assistance," state investigators wrote, "and that assistance would never have been provided if it weren't for the friendship of Butler and Wielsch."
In June 2009, Simms said, Butler approached her with an offer to run a salon that would provide "sensual massages." Clients would receive sexual favors stopping short of intercourse, she said.
Simms said the private investigator had told her Wielsch approved of the plan, and she soon helped Butler pick out a four-room suite in a strip mall on Gregory Lane in Pleasant Hill. Butler leased the space in his name and outfitted the office with Ikea furniture and security cameras, she said.
Simms charged $200 an hour for a massage, and she and the women she hired made weekly deposits in an envelope that Butler collected, she said.
"Simms said the agreement was she and each girl would pay Butler and Wielsch $500 each week for use of the business, and the girls could charge what they wanted for the massage services," according to state investigators' summary of their interviews with Simms.
As the operation went into full swing in late summer 2009, Simms said, Wielsch told her a nearby tenant had complained to police about suspicious activity and that he had been forced to dispatch an agent to investigate.
Defendant Norman Wielsch stands up before the judge with ...
She said Wielsch had sent a junior investigator and had given a photograph of the agent to Butler, who passed it along to her. When the undercover agent knocked on the door, Simms talked to him briefly and he left, she said.
The agent said he had told Wielsch he recognized Simms from her arrest earlier that year, according to accounts that two fellow agents gave to state investigators. Wielsch told the junior investigator to "forget about it" and that he would follow up later, the agents said.
Simms said she had a conversation about the undercover officer's visit with Wielsch and continued to operate the salon.
At one point, she said, Butler told her to "be nicer" to Wielsch, which she understood as a suggestion to engage in a sexual encounter with the officer.
According to Simms and statements from another woman who worked at the parlor, Jessica Banda, 33, the two women agreed to meet Wielsch at a hotel room.
Banda told state investigators that Simms had asked her to accompany her to "thank (Wielsch) for getting her criminal case reduced."
Both women told investigators they had performed sex acts with Wielsch.
Banda, who did not respond to messages seeking comment, told investigators the salon's demise began in late 2009 because of citizen complaints and the resulting scrutiny by Pleasant Hill police.
Simms said the business had been a challenge to manage. Women came and went, and it became difficult to rent out rooms and raise the money Butler and Wielsch expected.
The operation closed in December 2009 or early 2010, she said. Records show the landlord sued Butler in small claims court for unpaid rent in 2010.
In May 2011, after The Chronicle reported Butler had admitted to his role in the brothel and alleged it was Wielsch's idea, the officer's attorney offered a full-throated denial of his client's involvement.
Cardoza said Wielsch "had nothing to do with starting, running or protecting a brothel," and that Butler was "spinning tales to save himself."
In an interview that month with television station KNTV in San Jose, Wielsch was asked if he knew of the allegations that connected him to the parlor.
He shook his head. "No, I haven't heard that," he said.
Justin Berton is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Twitter: @justinberton. email@example.com
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