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The Setup
April 5, 2011 1:10 PM   Subscribe

"You may have heard the name Christopher Butler in the news lately but certainly not for reasons that the 49-year-old Concord resident would want you to know about. I’ve been following Butler’s mysterious story since last August, when he invited me to write a Diablo feature about his business. It unexpectedly turned out to be the most interesting—and frightening—story in my 14 years of being a journalist."
posted by brundlefly (69 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
And I think we just killed their server.
posted by Freen at 1:25 PM on April 5, 2011


Dang, it's been a while since I've seen a server go down this hard & fast. Is there a Kozmo delivery guy waiting outside for me?
posted by aramaic at 1:28 PM on April 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


Well, shoot.
posted by brundlefly at 1:28 PM on April 5, 2011


Can you describe what we would have been reading if the servers weren't borked?
I am temporarily extremely curious.

(curiosity is rarely a lengthy visitor)
posted by mer2113 at 1:31 PM on April 5, 2011


Interesting article up to page 3.
posted by Osrinith at 1:31 PM on April 5, 2011


Until it comes back up, is this the guy?
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:31 PM on April 5, 2011


Sadly, the article is split into six pages, which makes the lag a fair bit worse, I'd imagine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:31 PM on April 5, 2011


Yeah looks like it him.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:33 PM on April 5, 2011


Man, I am really curious...especially when someone in the comments calls him a sociopath. I didn't make it past Page 2...argh!!!
posted by victoriab at 1:33 PM on April 5, 2011


Yeah, server meltdown. Is there a cache?
posted by ob at 1:34 PM on April 5, 2011


That's him, StickyCarpet.
posted by brundlefly at 1:34 PM on April 5, 2011


Here's the link to the single-page version (though it too may be borked).
posted by BurntHombre at 1:36 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The google cache isn't working for me.
posted by brundlefly at 1:37 PM on April 5, 2011


Google cache - loading at a crawl, though.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:37 PM on April 5, 2011


There's an interesting corollary here. It's also on a big website so it should be fine while we wait for this one to recover.
posted by ericales at 1:37 PM on April 5, 2011


I'm only on page 2, but so far they've posted the picture of an alleged "cheater" and his "other woman." Spicy!
posted by muddgirl at 1:40 PM on April 5, 2011


Previous coverage of the company: East Bay Express, People Magazine.
posted by brundlefly at 1:42 PM on April 5, 2011




muddgirl, it gets more intriguing by page 4!
posted by humph at 1:44 PM on April 5, 2011


single page coral cache
posted by p3on at 1:45 PM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


muddgirl, it gets more intriguing by page 4!

I KNOW I JUST GOT THERE. Man, I should have figured it out by the fact that they published the picture...
posted by muddgirl at 1:50 PM on April 5, 2011


This story just keeps growing legs, or tentacles, or something. Butler's apparently involved with a couple of Richmond cops as well, according to today's Chronicle.
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"He described an upcoming case, in which he and the P.I. Moms would “sting” a philandering husband by sending a young, attractive decoy to flirt with him—maybe at a fitness club or via a dating website—and then try to make a date. If the husband bit, his wife had the goods on him and would be able call the shots in a divorce settlement."

Ooh, ooh ... I saw that movie: Chloe.
posted by ericb at 1:59 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm on Chapter 8 and enjoying the ride....
posted by victoriab at 2:05 PM on April 5, 2011


Ah, Concord, I'm so proud of you. I hope you're proud of me.

(No one who's lived in Concord would be surprised by this - it's basically a smaller Oakland.)

Also, looking forward to actually reading the article when the server comes back up. Meanwhile, thanks for the Clayton Patch link, StickyCarpet!
posted by doteatop at 2:08 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Goddamn, what amazing scumbags. For a publication I've never heard of, these Diablo people have done a hell of a job on 'em and should, I think, be more widely known for it.

...assuming that they're not lying too, in some weird triple-cross.
posted by aramaic at 2:09 PM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Got through on the site and read the whole thing...amazing story!
posted by StrikeTheViol at 2:10 PM on April 5, 2011


Just finished. What a crazy story. It was a little bit annoying how the author kept harping on the fact that he'd been misled and hoodwinked and "oh I felt so bad that I wasted 10 hours driving through wine country with these bad, bad people." I feel like there should have been a bit more outrage over the fact that a member of the police force was working with Butler to fence confiscated drugs. That's incredibly shitty and way worse than misleading the media about Mommy P.I.s.
posted by Osrinith at 2:10 PM on April 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


doteatop, I live in Concord, and your comparison is unfair to Oakland.
posted by lekvar at 2:17 PM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


The saddest thing about this epic tale of mirrors and smoke is how much more fun Butler and Co' could have had if he wasn't a sleezy drug dealer.

If all they did was run cons on the media and Hollywood with their Private PI Moms routine these guys could have become famous. They could have parlayed that routine into museum quality installations and performance work and lived on grants and awards for the rest of their lives.

When will the common scammer learn that art is the best scam of all?
posted by artof.mulata at 2:22 PM on April 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Lekvar: Yeah, I grew up there, live in Oakland now ... I see a lot of parallels, especially when it comes to corrupt cops exploiting the drug war for personal gain. Oakland's been improving a lot lately, maybe this kind of attention will help Concord along too.
posted by doteatop at 2:26 PM on April 5, 2011


good out-of-context quote:
"While the ride-along gang was saying that the events of September 11 were not staged, R. Rutherford continued to suggest otherwise."
posted by p3on at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why you would want to 'drop by' Rutherford Grill...from Concord...via Napa Premium Outlets...totally beyond me. But I can totally vouch for the artichoke dish...it is delicious.

Neat story.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:32 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, having finished the article, great story. Another con man bites the dust? All I'm concerned about now is how we're going to catch all the other sociopath ex-cop-turned-drug-dealers, you know, the ones who don't commit the statistically unlikely error of flamboyantly seeking media attention.

I also thought this quote was money: “I asked the DOJ about that. It was still there, but it turns out it wasn’t C-4—it was duct sealant. Butler thought it was C-4, though, and I have no doubt he would have sold it if he thought he could get some money for it.”

Everyone is conning everyone else out in the far East Bay; not even the con men are safe.
posted by doteatop at 2:39 PM on April 5, 2011


“I’m living in a film noir,” I realized, and I wondered how it was going to end.

Anyone else cringe when they read that line?
posted by grounded at 2:50 PM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes. I thought it could be an interesting story in the hands of another writer.
posted by maryr at 2:55 PM on April 5, 2011 [19 favorites]


"Paranoia Buffet" is the name of my new band.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:00 PM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


For a publication I've never heard of, these Diablo people have done a hell of a job on 'em and should, I think, be more widely known for it.

Diablo is a glossy local magazine, more usually full of fawning restaurant reviews and puff pieces on local businesses, and packed full of expensive advertising to match. Pseudo-investigative journalism is not their usual bag.

(And seconding the good story, terrible writing take: "sucking face"? Really?)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:22 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I had never heard of Diablo until I saw this cover story in the checkout line. I found the story fascinating despite the bad writing.
posted by brundlefly at 3:30 PM on April 5, 2011


Raymond Chandler wanna-be writes about Philip Marlowe wanna-be.

(and I thought it was a gripping read anyway)
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:31 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another sleepless night. Questions plagued me. Who was playing who? And was I a target?

Bit over the top, but an interesting story.
posted by graventy at 3:41 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This has been in the local news a lot lately, but I've only heard headline snippets on the radio until now. Glad to have been clued in!
posted by chatongriffes at 3:48 PM on April 5, 2011


Such a great story. Too bad it gotten written into a meh short story instead of a good article.
posted by Neekee at 4:10 PM on April 5, 2011


A great story, made even better if you read the article's lurid prose in a classic noir detective voice.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:13 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Big shout out to the Crosssings! What up, Concord!
posted by ph00dz at 4:14 PM on April 5, 2011


This was actually pretty awesome and certainly incredibly impressive for a local glossy East Bay mag. Amazing how many puff pieces this total dirtbag con artist managed to accumulate from some pretty huge names. It's clear he pulled the fake cheating spouse bust on a couple of nationally distributed publications and it totally would have worked on Diablo too if it weren't for the anonymous tipster. The fact that this reporter

I don't get a sense that journalism really takes seriously the number of people who have made it their mission to not just present their point of view, but outright create entire realities to present to the press in the name of publicity, or worse, public advocacy. I'm not just talking about a East Bay criminal PI who scammed his way to some free advertising either. Consider Merck's fake "peer reviewed" medical journal (and at least five others published by Elsevier), papers citing well-paid consultatnts as unbiased "experts," straight astroturfing, and dozens of other tactics that amount to lying on a massive scale.
posted by zachlipton at 4:17 PM on April 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


It seems that local magazines like these seldom spend any money on investigative journalism and when they do they give it to people who normally report on wine lists and "area dogs love new organic pet treat store" stories. Considering that this is a hell of an article.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:21 PM on April 5, 2011


Wow. Probably only one case of shenanigans like this going on in the whole country. A very isolated incident, I am sure.
posted by telstar at 4:39 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't get a sense that journalism really takes seriously the number of people who have made it their mission to not just present their point of view, but outright create entire realities to present to the press in the name of publicity, or worse, public advocacy.

Oh no, they take it very seriously. Those people almost invariably have lots of advertising money to spend so you certainly want to make sure they get their puff pieces, too.
posted by smoke at 5:40 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a wonderful story and if it strikes you as overblown, it's probably because the poor guy writing it for a local interest mag never dreamed in a brazilian years that he'd be schmoozing with crooked cops, sociopathic drug pushers, and people who had pulled the wool over the eyes of national media all at once. He's been hired to review the restaurants and interview the guy who's fronting at the next concert, not interview Serpico.
posted by localroger at 5:42 PM on April 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


This is a very well done piece of investigative journalism. After reading this, I really have to hand it to Peter Crooks. There are at least 4 different places where most journos would have just packed it in, written the story and called it quits. He kept pressing on, did his homework and was rewarded with a fantastic article, as well as some concrete results (won't spoil it so you have the pleasure of reading it yourself).

As a bonus, this piece reads like a pot boiler. I really love long for investigative journalism when it's done well, and sadly we don't see enough of it these days.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 6:22 PM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I suppose I have to acknowledge the reporting as good, but the reporter strikes me as self-aggrandizing and, frankly, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he was hard at work turning this whole affair into the script for a made-for-TV movie. Man, the underbelly of the entertainment world is scummy.

And yet, my mind is full of images Bob Crane, Jane Mansfield, Raymond Chandler and sweaty boulevards, so maybe it's not such a bad piece after all.
posted by Trochanter at 6:36 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it may help to realize that the arrests and scandal behind this have been somewhat major news locally. Part of what may read as self-aggrandizement is more like the reporter being excited to give the story behind the headlines.
posted by zachlipton at 7:14 PM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


I actually enjoyed the writing. Some of the lines--mostly the ones already mentioned--were a bit much, but I thought that overall Crooks did a good job and is more than a competent writer. The pacing in particular was excellent, and I was genuinely surprised (being ignorant of this news story) by the twists and turns.

I would also imagine that if you aren't used to dealing with confidential sources and anonymous tips regarding pretty seriously illegal activity, it would be jarring at the very least. There is also something strange, I'm sure, about receiving such e-mails and not knowing where they are coming from (especially for a run-of-the-mill article on some Hollywood-ready "private detective" firm). Cut the guy some slack!
posted by nonmerci at 8:56 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am reminded of a comment made by the show runner of Veronica Mars along the lines of "People complain how much Veronica uses the computer to investigate but if we were being honest about actual P.I work, it would be 60 minutes of clicking."
posted by The Whelk at 9:57 PM on April 5, 2011


I suppose I have to acknowledge the reporting as good, but the reporter strikes me as self-aggrandizing and, frankly, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he was hard at work turning this whole affair into the script for a made-for-TV movie. Man, the underbelly of the entertainment world is scummy.

He mentions that he takes take off work every week to go to a noir film festival. That must have influenced his (rather bad) writing.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:02 PM on April 5, 2011


er, every year
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:02 PM on April 5, 2011


I thought that was the detail that turned it into a Coen Brothers treatment.
posted by The Whelk at 10:03 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I got to know Pete a little recently when I did a short stint at Diablo. He's a very nice, interesting, and intelligent guy, and I'm super happy for him that he stumbled across such a crazy and intriguing story. And good for him for all the work he put into it! He writes in his own voice and style; yes, it may not be to everyone's taste, but I personally enjoyed it a lot.
posted by JenMarie at 10:08 PM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


nthing what localroger said. I'd expect someone who brags about his fourteen years in journalism to have a smoother style--not describe Butler as a "puffed-up tough guy" at the get-go, or make a point of pointing out how corny the fake lovers' overheard dialogue is--but he's probably managed to get by until now on that sort of writing, and Butler had no problem bamboozling a lot of experienced journalists and media types on the national level that should have known better.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:12 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cut the guy some slack!

I don't mean to be too hard on him, after all, who am I? In a way it's fun. You sense his marvelling at being in the middle of such an unexpected story. But, as they say to football players who celebrate too much after a touchdown, "Act like you've been there before."
posted by Trochanter at 10:15 PM on April 5, 2011


And the whole thing (him included) does really have the makings of what could be a fun movie which, yeah, I'd go with the Coens to make. Hell, I just watched and loved Barton Fink for the first time a few nights ago, so it's funny they came up.
posted by Trochanter at 10:20 PM on April 5, 2011


A project I worked on got passed on at Lifetime when they bought this reality show. At least we admitted that ours was scripted. Pfffttt.
posted by buzzkillington at 11:05 PM on April 5, 2011


This is Diablo Magazine at the top of their game, well beyond their usual. "Classy" they are, if classy means reviewing expensive restaurants and advertising expensive luxury consumer goods. But real journalism is sort of foreign to them, and although I like this piece, that unfamiliarity comes through.
posted by cman at 12:18 AM on April 6, 2011


It's really kind of freaky-cool until you really seriously consider the amount of effort put into that 'surveillance' scenario at the begining (and that was replicated for People mag). That's six people for a ten hour day? That's a lot of expenditure and effort, all to perpetuate a fraud. The revelation of the depth of Butler's corruption only helps to make it stranger.

I came away thinking early David Lynch more than Coen Brothers.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:18 AM on April 6, 2011


Why does yet another thread have to turn into drive-by nitpicking on a writer's style?

Guys, I'm sure you would have written this better. But you didn't do the legwork or have the opportunity. So give it a rest.
posted by meadowlark lime at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why does yet another thread have to turn into drive-by nitpicking on a writer's style?

You read the piece, you give your impressions. Did you NOT notice the bad parts? This isn't your local creative writing club. We clicked on the page. The guy got paid. Does fourteen year veteran journalist, (and I hear all round sweetie pie) Peter Crooks give a fuck? I doubt it. Relax.
posted by Trochanter at 10:47 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's six people for a ten hour day? That's a lot of expenditure and effort, all to perpetuate a fraud.

Look at the time and effort that goes into faking the drama on most "reality" TV series. I would imagine faking the People magazine piece paid for itself many times over in fees. To Butler, this was advertising.
posted by benzenedream at 10:04 AM on April 7, 2011


It might have been 'advertising' but it's crazy person behavior of the first order and, better stil it has roped in all these other people in it's service.

I imagine the conversations of people at the end of the day when they talk about what they did... Either lots of rationalizing or self-disgust going on there. Fertile territory for fiction, fucking misery in reality.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:55 AM on April 7, 2011


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