Butler's lack of a serious criminal history and his cooperation with federal prosecutors paid off, and he served only a month behind bars. He was ordered to pay $14,000 in restitution to the businesses he ripped off, but after paying back a portion the court released him from that obligation, citing his inability to pay, according to court documents.

Butler says his counterfeiting enterprise was the biggest mistake of his life. "That's not me," he said. "I've always been hard-working, and I don't want to be that kind of example to my kids or my community. I was young and I made a big mistake and it has dogged me ever since."

But Butler wasn't all that young. When he became a counterfeiter, he was a 33-year-old family man with two children. Prior to becoming a late-blooming felon, Butler had led a mostly crime-free existence, according to court records. He prefers not to talk about what drove him to the dark side so late in life, and in fact cut an interview short when asked.

Butler then turned his attention to politics. In 1998, the same year he petitioned the court to release him from paying restitution, his immediate family members and his newly formed company, the Butler Enterprise Group, contributed $2,875 to San Francisco political campaigns. Of that, $2,575 went to Supervisor Amos Brown's successful re-election campaign. Between 1998 and 2004, Butler contributed $6,205 to candidates, about of third of which went to Gavin Newsom's mayoral campaign.

Butler's generosity and political activity gave him access to City Hall. He was a member of Newsom's transition team in 2004, which consisted of more than 200 community activists who helped the mayor establish priorities for issues such as redevelopment, homelessness, and violent crime. District Attorney Kamala Harris lists Butler's name prominently on her Web site, and Assemblyman Mark Leno's Web site features a photo of Leno with Butler at the 25th anniversary of the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in 2006.

Butler says he turned to politics for selfless reasons. "I got involved in politics because I wanted to do what I could to make sure there was a spot at the table for African-Americans in San Francisco," he says. But by-products of his political activity were plum contracts for his Butler Enterprise Group. He was hired as a contract compliance officer for major developers with fat city contracts. Among others, Butler worked for Catellus, the master developer of the 303-acre Mission Bay project, and Lennar Corporation, the company behind the 790-acre Hunters Point redevelopment project.

In 2002, Butler's political connections paid off again when the Butler Enterprise Group became a 20 percent partner in the newly formed Fillmore Development Associates, whose first contract was to help build the Fillmore Jazz District, a $62 million redevelopment project in the city's Western Addition.

It appeared that a young man from the neighborhood had finally made good, but Butler apparently had not completely reformed. He failed to mention his felonious background to his new partner, Em Johnson Interest, and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. In 2005, just as the redevelopment agency was about to release $13 million in city-owned land and cash to Butler and his partner, the San Francisco Business Times published a story detailing Butler's felony convictions.

Causing further embarrassment, the Business Times noted that Butler had misrepresented his education to the agency, claiming on his résumé that he held a bachelor's in business administration from San Francisco State University. According to the university's admissions office, Butler was registered for two semesters in the mid-1980s, but never obtained a degree. The revelations damaged the credibility of the Fillmore project, and within 10 days of the story's publication, Butler quietly withdrew his partnership. It was around this time he turned his full attention to completing construction of his sports bar.

Just past 10:30 p.m. on a recent Friday night, the quiet end of Cesar Chavez is suddenly slammed with traffic. Cars packed with young people turn onto the street and parking spaces are quickly filled.

Small groups hang out in front of the buildings east of the club, drinking hard liquor and passing blunts. The young men do their best to look self-assured in their uniforms of oversize jeans and polo shirts (the club's dress code requires males to wear collared shirts; plain tees, white tennis shoes, hoodies, or other gang wear are forbidden). Slender young women in miniskirts and light summer tops cross their arms against the chilly fall air while they wait in line.

A girl who looks to be no more than a teenager is hanging out up the street with two friends. She swears she's 21 as she pours a shot of Hennessy cognac into her friend's plastic cup before tilting the bottle to her lips for a long pull of the amber liquor.

A police squad car pulls up in front of a Fanatics employee collecting parking fees at the entrance of the club's parking lot. "How many are you expecting tonight?" the cop asks.

"This should really be about it for tonight," the parking attendant says, gesturing broadly to the 200 or so people on the street.

The cop scowls at the attendant for several beats to convey his skepticism before driving off without saying anything else.

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