'Hot Soccer Mom' Detective Scam: Whistleblower Tells Story

PHOTO: Carl Marino, left, was once star detective Chris Butler?s righthand man.
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How does a private eye firm become a media sensation? Sometimes it just takes a few good-looking soccer moms looking for extra work, unsuspecting men and, last but not least, hidden cameras.

Private investigator Chris Butler and his California-based firm attracted attention from national media by hiring attractive mothers to seduce husbands suspected of cheating.

On shows like "Dr. Phil," Butler, an ex-cop, demonstrated how his "Mommy PIs" would lure a wayward husband into a compromising position, while surveillance cameras captured every incriminating moment.

"We're at the grocery store one minute, dropping off our kids at football practice at another, and doing surveillance and being private investigators or decoys in another minute," Latasha Wallace, one of the moms hired by Butler, told "20/20's" Chris Cuomo.

Watch the full story on "20/20" now

Carl Marino, a former deputy sheriff, was Butler's right hand man. He landed a job choreographing and videotaping Butler's sting operations after moving to California in hopes of pursuing an acting career. The gig with Butler was supposed to help pay the bills -- but it soon turned into a thrill ride.

"It was very exciting. ... And [Butler] has a way of telling things that make them seem even more exciting," Marino told Cuomo.

Butler, Marino said, was a master showman who invited reporters and television outlets on stings -- operations that always seemed to end with the suspected cheater getting busted.

But there was a reason that these stings always hit pay dirt, Marino said: They were faked.

"What was really happening is we were completely scripting these cases. We'd have a fake client," he said. "We hired these actresses and they would cry and, you know, my husband's cheating on me."

Marino said Butler justified the fake stings by saying that they were based on real cases.

At the same time Butler was fooling the media, he was running another hustle -- and this one was criminal. Butler clued Marino in on his secret one night at the PI agency.

"So he walks me over to this, this big, black, locked case, unlocks it, opens it up and there's like seven or nine pounds of weed, bags of weed," Marino said.

The drugs allegedly came from an old police buddy of Butler's -- Commander Norm Wielsch, the head of the local narcotics task force.

Authorities say Wielsch was giving Butler the drugs seized by his task force to re-sell on the street. Thousands of dollars were changing hands and now, they wanted Marino to join their enterprise.

For Marino, punking the media with the mommy PI setups was one thing, but the drug sales were serious illegal activity. The one-time sheriff's deputy was now determined to bring down Butler and Wielsch.

"To see someone tarnish their uniform, I'm absolutely disgusted. I have to do something about this," he told "20/20."

Marino turned to state narcotics agents, setting up a nighttime rendezvous. They believed his account, but then asked him to take on the acting gig of his life: to pretend to go along with Butler's drug dealing operation and then turn the surveillance camera on his boss.

Over the next few weeks, Marino played his part to perfection and recorded numerous drug transactions with Butler. But he still hadn't nailed allegedly corrupt cop Norm Wielsch.

The opportunity finally arose one night when authorities say Wielsch showed up at Butler's PI agency to get his cut from a crystal meth deal personally.

As captured on tape, Wielsch was clearly nervous about the transaction.

"I'm kinda worried because this is a big step up," he said at the time.

But the deal went through and Butler handed over a load of crystal meth to Marino.

The very next day, Butler and Wielsch were arrested and charged with federal and state counts of drug trafficking and conspiracy. Butler later pleaded guilty to felony charges that included drug distribution, extortion and illegal wiretapping.

Wielsch has admitted publicly to participating in the drug scam, but pled not guilty to similar charges.

Wielsch's lawyer told The San Francisco Gate in January that Wielsch was "not guilty of all the things they've charged him with."

Butler is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 11. He faces 10 to 14 years in prison.

Marino, meanwhile, plans to focus once again on acting. He's currently on set shooting the Investigation Discovery series, "Homicide Hunter."

Watch the full story on "20/20" tonight at a special time, 9 p.m. ET.

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