It's not even half over, but 2011 looks as if it might be the Year of the Corrupt Cop in the Bay Area. The only question right now is whether Contra Costa County or San Francisco has the dirtier police officers. As of late last week, CoCo County had taken the edge with the disclosure that one of its top commanders had allegedly operated a brothel in Pleasant Hill and regularly ripped off prostitutes and other whorehouses.
Indeed, it's been one jaw-dropping revelation after another so far this year in CoCo County. First, there was the news that the head of the county's Narcotics Enforcement Team, Norman Wielsch, had allegedly been selling drugs with the help of his longtime buddy, Christopher Butler, a private investigator. The San Francisco Chronicle reported late last week that Butler told investigators that Wielsch coerced him into the drug-dealing scheme in exchange for police intel on people he was investigating.
Then came the news that Butler, a former Antioch cop, had run a "dirty DUI" scam with a CoCo County sheriff's deputy in San Ramon. In an attempt to help wives win their divorce and child-custody cases, Butler would hire attractive women to entice the targeted husbands into getting drunk and then Sheriff's Deputy Stephen Tanabe would arrest the men outside the bar not long after they got into their cars. If that scenario sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it is. Four years ago, the Express ran a cover story on Butler and his use of beautiful decoys to nab cheating husbands (see "The Honeytrappers," 3/7/2007).
But none of those revelations compared to last week's news about the Pleasant Hill brothel. According to the Chronicle, Butler confessed to police that he, Wielsch, and a San Ramon cop allegedly opened a massage parlor in Pleasant Hill that was a front for a whorehouse. Butler also said that Wielsch had allegedly engineered at least five robberies of other brothels, stealing the prostitutes' cash. Wielsch's lawyer told the paper that his client denies the allegations. The brothel closed last year when it didn't rake in as much money as the cops had hoped.
Across the bay, meanwhile, the FBI is conducting a wide-ranging corruption probe of the San Francisco Police Department. It began earlier this year with the revelations that SFPD had been conducting raids without search warrants. The cops claimed they had warrants, but surveillance video showed the officers entering rooms at residential hotels using master keys. Apparently the cops were too dumb to realize they were on camera. Either that or they were just brazen.
The department's undercover team members also were captured on video raiding a residential hotel room without showing their badges. Prosecutors were forced to drop nearly one hundred criminal cases involving the unit and the department suspended its operations.
And then last week, the Chron reported that another surveillance video showed a San Francisco cop, Richard Guerrero, in a suspect's home taking a duffel bag that allegedly contained an iPod, a bottle of Tequila, two pounds of coffee, and caps and T-shirts. The cop never booked the duffel bag into evidence and the items were never recovered, even though charges against the suspect were dropped.
State Parks to Close
When Jerry Brown won the election last fall, environmentalists hoped that the yearly threat of state park closures would finally end. After all, Brown is a Democrat who views himself as being pro-environment. But last week, the worst fears of park lovers came true when Brown's administration announced that it would close seventy state parks in 2012 because of California's fiscal nightmare. If the closures happen, Brown will become the first governor in state history to shutter state parks.
Worse yet, Brown's team noted that the park closures had nothing to do with Republican efforts to block his plan to put tax measures on the ballot. Instead, the impending closures were the result of $14 billion in cuts that Democrats made in March. In other words, it looks as if nothing is going to save the parks from being closed. In fact, Brown's administration noted that even more parks might be shuttered if his tax measures don't go through.
The list of closures is depressing. In the Bay Area, such gems as Samuel P. Taylor State Park and Tomales Bay State Park in Marin County are to be closed, as is Northern California's largest state park, Henry Coe. And even if your favorite park isn't on the closure list, it likely will still suffer cutbacks in service and maintenance, Brown said.
Skinner's Tax-the-Rich Bill
A statewide poll showed last month that a large majority of California voters favor a tax hike on the rich to help save public education from devastating cuts. Even Republican voters liked the idea. But Governor Brown and top Democratic legislators have so far resisted such a proposal. Are they afraid of angering deep-pocketed donors? Perhaps. But Nancy Skinner apparently isn't. The Berkeley assemblywoman is pushing a bill that would tack a 1 percent additional tax on income above $500,000. Skinner estimates her proposal will raise $2.3 billion in revenues each year.
Democratic state senate leader Darrell Steinberg, meanwhile, is threatening to pass a bill that would allow counties and school districts to raise numerous taxes on their own. Steinberg said he'll move forward with his bill if Republicans continue to block the governor's tax measures. The Los Angeles Times reported that the bill, which passed out of committee last week, would let counties and school districts ask local voters to raise income taxes, increase the vehicle license fee, and boost levies on liquor, tobacco, and soft drinks. They can even levy fees on oil companies. The bill only requires a majority vote of the legislature, so it can pass without Republican support. No wonder business groups were suddenly pressuring lawmakers last week to strike a budget deal.
President Barack Obama's job approval rating soared to 60 percent in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, according to an Associated Press poll, as onetime Republican presidential frontrunner/birther Donald Trump dropped out of the 2012 race. ... The Brown administration has effectively abandoned plans for a peripheral canal around the delta, and the governor gave up on his proposal to kill enterprise tax zones. ... The California State University system is considering another 30 percent tuition hike because of drastic budget cutbacks. ... And the AC Transit board voted to raise bus fares to $2.10.