Jurors in the federal drug trafficking trial of former Fresno deputy Police Chief Keith Foster listened Thursday to nearly two dozen wiretaps that prosecutors say link him to peddling marijuana and heroin, and heard conflicting explanations for why Foster had thousands of dollars in hundred-dollar bills stashed at home.
Federal prosecutors contend the wiretaps and the cash show Foster was trafficking in marijuana, oxycodone and heroin even as he was second-in-command of the police department.
Foster’s attorney, E. Marshall Hodgkins, contends Foster was “deep undercover” conducting a drug investigation. The money, Hodgkins argued, was a loan from a veteran Fresno police sergeant, who testified he wrote the deputy chief a $15,000 check to help him through a messy divorce.
After Foster’s arrest, federal agents found $1,300 in his car and $10,200 in a safe inside his home. All the money was in $100 bills. Prosecutors contend the money was drug profits.
Foster, who resigned as deputy chief a week after his arrest in March 2015, is facing felony charges that could result in at least 25 years in prison and stiff fines if he is convicted. The other six defendants who were arrested with Foster – including two of his nephews – have all taken plea deals.
During Thursday’s testimony, it emerged that many of Foster’s calls caught on wiretaps were made during workday hours, and in one of them, Foster was heard saying he has friends in the Fresno Police Department narcotics unit who can help him.
In the telephone calls, Foster talks about buying drugs, but also talks to Denny Foster about the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders. When he speaks to his nephews, he refers to them as “Baby Boy” or “Bulldog.”
In a wiretap on Jan. 4, 2015, Keith Foster curses into his cell phone when he finds out that his nephew, Denny Foster, was arrested by the California Highway Patrol on Highway 99 in Merced for having six pounds of marijuana in the trunk of his car.
Keith Foster was talking to a woman identified in court as Desiree Carbajal, who was with her child and Denny Foster when he was pulled over.
Carbajal tells Keith Foster that the CHP pulled them over for having tinted windows. She then says Denny Foster confessed to having six pounds of marijuana in the trunk.
“Why are you so reckless?” Keith Foster tells Carbajal, referring to the tinted windows. He then tells her that he “could have provided cover” for Denny Foster if he had known about the trip ahead of time. “OK, let me call some of my guys and see what they can do,” Foster tells Carbajal.
Prosecutors contends Keith Foster was referring to his “narc guys,” according to a trial brief filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the phone call, Carbajal promises Keith Foster: “I won’t tell anyone I called you.”
Two days later, Foster and an unidentified woman talk on the telephone, according to another wiretap played to the jury. In the call, Keith Foster says his nephew “just got popped with six P’s.” Foster curses and then tells the woman: “Don’t mention it to anyone.” The woman says she won’t.
After Denny Foster was released from custody, Keith Foster talked to him, according to a wiretap on Feb. 7, 2015. “Don’t worry, they (screwed) up,” Foster tells his nephew. “I will have my boys look into it. I will have a bunch of them make phone calls.”
On the second day of the trial, federal prosecutors Melanie Alsworth and Duce Rice bolstered their case against Foster, putting on wiretap evidence that makes it appear that he is a key participant in conspiracies to peddle heroin, oxycodone and marijuana, working with a half-dozen other people, including two nephews, Denny Foster and Randy Flowers.
Jurors have heard 30 wiretaps over two days in which prosecutors contend Keith Foster talked with co-defendant Rafael Guzman Jr. about buying heroin and talked about selling oxycodone to co-defendant Randy Flowers. In other wiretaps, Foster talked to Denny Foster about buying marijuana.
Hodgkins told the jury on Thursday that no one has witnessed Foster selling oxycodone pills to Flowers or saw Foster buying heroin from Guzman. He also said no one has seen him buying marijuana from Denny Foster.
In questioning FBI special agent Jeremy Crider, one of several agents who investigated Foster, Hodgkins said the entire case “is made of maybes.”
Instead, Hodgkins said the wiretaps actually show Foster working undercover as a narcotics investigator. He said Foster is innocent of the charges because he was using Denny Foster as a confidential informant.
The wiretaps are difficult to understand. The jury of eight women and four men have been given a transcript of the calls.
When his voice is audible on the recordings, Foster appeared uneasy, fidgeting in his chair and often looking at Hodgkins.
In the calls, prosecutors contend Foster is talking Denny Foster about buying marijuana. Foster used the term “units” and says it’s for “his boy.” Words such as “cookies,” “OG,” “fire” and “alien” are heard on the secret audio recordings.
Federal agent Sherri Reynolds testified that “unit” is a measurement that drug dealers used to determine how many pounds of marijuana they want to purchase.
“Cookies,” “fire,” “OG” and “alien” are types of marijuana, Reynolds told the jury.
On cross-examination Hodgkins asked Reynolds if her interpretation of Foster’s words could be wrong.
“It’s always possible, but not probably,” Reynolds testified.
Foster contends he was using his nephew Denny Foster as a confidential informant to make a big drug bust.
But Reynolds told the jury she has done more than two dozen undercover investigations that use wiretaps. She also said in the field of law enforcement it is highly unlikely for a police officer to use a relative as an informant.
Thursday afternoon, Fresno police Sgt John Jensen testified about a $15,000 loan he made to Foster in November 2014.
Jensen said his family has an investment firm and owns mineral rights on property in North Dakota. Jensen, a 24-year veteran of the department, told the jury he knew Foster from work, but seldom interacted with him socially.
Jensen testified that he loaned the money because Foster was going through a messy divorce. He said both he and Foster signed a loan agreement.
But on cross-examination, he told prosecutors that he gave Foster a check – not cash.
The trial in Judge Anthony Ishii’s courtroom is high stakes because Foster, 53, rejected a plea agreement that would have resulted in 46 months, or nearly four years, in prison. Denny Foster, Flowers, Guzman, Jennifer Donabedian, Sarah Ybarra and Ricky Reynolds have accepted plea deals. But only Denny Foster has agreed to testify against Keith Foster.
Foster’s arrest shocked the city because Police Chief Jerry Dyer has claimed he knew nothing about his second-in-command’s alleged criminal activity, even though they were longtime friends and their offices at police headquarters were close to each other.