The honeytrap that turned divorcés into drink drivers

Police bust elaborate scam involving a private eye, former showgirls and corrupt officers

How can you blame David Dutcher – middle-aged, not quite Brad Pitt and going through a divorce – for dropping his guard a little that one night back in 2008? The woman he had met online was blond and gorgeous and so was her friend with the deep cleavage. Then they invited him to a house with a hot tub; what was he supposed to do?

For one, he was not supposed to take another drink at a bar in Concord, 25 miles east of San Francisco. Second, he might have asked himself why these younger women were all over his 49-year-old self, massaging his neck, mussing his hair and cooing into his ears.

"It felt a lot like Christmas," Mr Dutcher, an aeronautics engineer, recalled this week to the Los Angeles Times.

Mr Dutcher, it turns out, was in the final moments of a dastardly divorce sting. He was behind the wheel of his pick-up truck following the two women to the hot-tub rendezvous when flashing red and blue lights showed in his mirror. The women were gone and he was arrested for drunken driving.

It did not take long for Mr Dutcher to realise his arrest spelled disaster for negotiations with his ex-wife over custody of their children. What he did not know until earlier this year was that the arrest was a set-up, instigated by her and executed by an ex-police officer turned private detective named Christopher Butler. Mr Butler, who was arrested in February and is now under investigation for a range of crimes that include consorting with serving police officers to run a brothel and sell drugs on their behalf, seemingly was quite the friend to disgruntled wives. Local prosecutors believe he was behind five such drunken driving set-ups.

Mr Dutcher and other victims of the scheme received a letter from a local district attorney, Harold Jewett, this year detailing what Mr Butler is accused of. "I hope in some small way this information will help you recoup both rights and dignities lost in one of the most deplorable legal practices I've ever heard of," he wrote. Duping the men was never hard. Women worked in pairs for Mr Butler for $25 an hour, reeling in the target with flattery, innuendo and booze. One was Sharon Taylor, a former Las Vegas showgirl. When Mr Dutcher left for his pick-up, Mr Butler tipped off the local police that he was driving drunk.

Mr Dutcher has since had his driving under the influence (DUI) conviction expunged. Now comes the tougher task of having his divorce settlement rewritten to claw back access to his children which, he insists, was lost as a direct result of his original arrest. His ex-wife, Susan Dutcher, has said she only ever meant for Mr Butler to see her ex-husband drinking and driving and report it to the court, not to arrest him.

Meanwhile, her lawyer, Pamela Lauser, denies the custody deal should be revisited. "Nobody forced him to drink," she said. "He was drunk and was driving. How's that a dirty DUI?"

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