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Diablo magazine peels back the ‘Mommy P.I.’ detective scam

Monday, March 21, 2011

image Too bad that “Mommy P.I.” private investigator Chris Butler’s pilot for the Lifetime cable channel didn’t pan out after he and a former state drug cop were arrested and charged with drug dealing. They’re awaiting trial. Peter Crooks’ piece in Walnut Creek-based Diablo magazine would have been good for, oh, two or three episodes at least.

Crooks details how the high-profile Concord private investigator tried to con him and Diablo, and, indeed, succeeded in conning several other media outlets, including the Today Show, People magazine (story and photo) and Dr. Phil, while peddling publicity about his team of housewife adultery sleuths. The problem: at least some of the team’s more dramatic track-downs are alleged to have been scripted and phony. Here’s what Crooks writes about Butler’s calling him up last year to solicit Diablo to do a piece about the firm:

Butler invited me to come on a ride-along on one of his cases to watch his P.I. Moms in action. 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.

“I’m not crazy about that angle,” I said. “I’d feel better about the ride-along if you were following a guy who was already cheating, not some guy you baited with a hottie.”

And here’s Crooks’ explaining the turn of events that led him to re-think the piece:

So many suspicious red flags were raised during my ride-along that I wish I could say I figured out that the surveillance was fake all by myself. Not until January 3, however, did things start to get really weird. At 11:21 a.m., I received an e-mail from an “R. Rutherford” with “Peter Crooks/Important (pi moms)” written in the subject line.

The e-mail read: “I am writing this as a courtesy to you. It would be a mistake to publish the article on the P.I. Moms and Chris Butler that you came and did a story on a few months ago. Chris totally played you. The case that you sat in on was totally scripted. All of the participants were employees or paid actors. The ‘client’ actually works for the agency and was a former client. The ‘boyfriend’ was a friend of Chris’, and his ‘mistress’ is a hired ‘decoy.’ The entire Napa ‘trip’ was planned out, and the investigators knew exactly the course of events. The only reason Butler wants to be in your magazine is for advertising purposes. The whole ‘P.I. Moms’ thing has even been crafted just to get on a TV show. You have a great and classy magazine, and I would hate to see it cheapened by someone of low character such as Mr. Butler.”

As you might expect, Diablo’s story is nothing like Butler had hoped.

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