Keith Foster said Wednesday he was no drug “kingpin” when he was Fresno’s deputy police chief, and he blamed politics and the press for his downfall.
In six hours of testimony spread over two days in his federal drug trafficking case, Foster tried to portray himself as a good cop whose actions were misunderstood and whose career was unjustly ruined.
But in an hour of cross-examination Wednesday, federal prosecutors tried to poke holes in his account, accusing him of destroying evidence and making drug deals while at work. And Foster’s one-time boss, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, testified late Wednesday that he asked Foster for a report on heroin, not that he work undercover making buys.
Foster is one of seven people – two of them his nephews – arrested in March 2015 in a drug trafficking case that stunned Fresno, its police department and its chief, Dyer – Foster’s close friend and mentor. Six of the defendants have taken plea deals. Only Foster’s case remains.
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In his second day of testimony, an angry yet confident Foster gave his own account of his arrest and jailing, and he lashed out at the treatment he says he received from federal agents.
He said agents took him to the Madera County Jail and refused to tell him the allegations, other than being a participant in three conspiracies.
I knew then my career was ruined.
Former Fresno Deputy Police Chief Keith Foster, reflecting on his arrest on drug trafficking charges
At the jail, correctional officers took his shoelaces, a nurse asked him about his mental health, and he was put on suicide watch. He testified he was worried about his family because the FBI ordered correctional officers not to give him access to a phone.
That night, Foster testified, a correctional officer told him that television news was reporting that he was “the kingpin of the Foster family drug trafficking organization.” Foster – second in command of the Fresno Police Department at the time and Dyer’s heir apparent – is accused of participating in three conspiracies to sell heroin, marijuana and oxycodone.
The night of his arrest, Foster said, he learned that Dyer held a news conference in which the media reported “that I was the head of a drug cartel.”
“I was highly upset,” he told the jury in U.S. District Court in Fresno.
Foster said the accusation was false, and he blamed “politics in Fresno” and inaccurate reporting for his demise as the city’s deputy police chief.
“I knew then my career was ruined,” Foster said, telling the jurors that the stigma of his arrest is similar to a school teacher being falsely accused of having sex with a student.
The case against Foster is built on wiretaps and surveillance of him by agents with the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In the wiretaps Foster can be heard talking about buying drugs. Prosecutors contend Foster was trafficking in marijuana, oxycodone and heroin. On the fifth day of testimony, they got their first shot at Foster, accusing him of destroying evidence – oxycodone pills – and making drug deals while at work.
Foster appeared confident on the witness stand, telling jurors he’s an expert in undercover narcotics operations. He even smiled when he heard his voice on the wiretaps.
Pills and cash
But on cross-examination, prosecutor Melanie Alsworth quickly put Foster in a bind, showing the jury that Foster wasn’t being truthful about getting access to a phone after his arrest.
In fact, Foster admitted, FBI agent Jeremy Crider let him call his fiancé right after his arrest.
Foster spent only an hour on the witness stand being cross-examined by Alsworth. He spent five hours over two days on the witness stand explaining on direct examination from his attorney, E. Marshall Hodgkins, how he was not making drug deals, but was collecting information for Fresno police narcotics officers. Foster’s framing of events was a sharp turnabout from how his attorney had initially tried to portray them to the jury – as a secretive undercover drug investigation. Foster undercut that version as soon as he took the stand Tuesday, stunning Hodgkins.
The highlight on the cross-examination came when Alsworth played recordings of Foster talking to his nephew Randy Flowers. Prosecutors contend Foster sold oxycodone pills to Flowers.
Foster was arrested during the morning of March 26, 2015, minutes after leaving Flowers’ home in southwest Fresno. The night before he had picked up 100 pills of oxycodone from a pharmacy.
Federal agents found two oxycodone pills and $1,300 – all in $100 bills – in Foster’s car. Agents found 98 oxycodone pills in an unlabeled pill bottle in Flowers’ home and more than $10,000 in cash – all in $100 bills. Prosecutors contend the pills have the same markings.
Foster contends he always carries two oxycodone pills with him in case his painful gout flares up. Hodgkins has told the jury that Flowers has his own prescription for oxycodone and more than 98 pills were actually found in his home.
Foster testified the other 98 pills were actually in his home but federal agents failed to find them when they searched his home.
He testified he found the 98 pills after he was arraigned on drug charges. He told the jury he got worried when he found the pills because as a condition of his pretrial release he was ordered to stay away from oxycodone.
Because he didn’t want to get in trouble, Foster testified he flushed the 98 pills down the toilet.
Prosecutors contend the wiretaps show Foster talking with Rafael Guzman Jr. and Denny Foster, Keith Foster’s nephew, about making drug deals. Foster, however, has testified that he was only collecting information from Guzman and Denny Foster about drug activity and turning the information over to Detective Brannon Kirkland and Sgt. George Wilson of the major narcotics unit.
Wednesday afternoon Wilson and Kirkland both testified that Foster referred Guzman and Denny Foster to the narcotics unit as possible paid confidential informants.
Wilson and Kirkland also both testified that neither Guzman nor Denny Foster became paid informants. Guzman didn’t qualify because of his extensive criminal history, Wilson and Kirkland said. Denny Foster never signed up to be an informant.
Guzman never provided police with information but Denny Foster did, but the information didn’t “pan out,” Kirkland told the jury.
Hodgkins has told the jury that Kirkland was working with Keith Foster to make big drug busts. In wiretaps, Foster tells Denny Foster his “boy” wants to buy “units.”
Hodgkins has told the jury that Foster’s “boy” is Kirkland. But on the witness stand Kirkland said he was not the “boy” Foster referred to in the wiretaps. He also testified that he doesn’t use the word “units.”
In addition Kirkland testified he was not working with Foster on any undercover drug operation.
The chief testifies
Before the day ended, Chief Jerry Dyer – in full police uniform – testified that Foster was one of the city’s top cops, able to relate to everyone in the community, including troubled youths. Dyer said Foster was honest, had extensive contacts in the city and was able to perform any task given.
The chief said he was unaware of the FBI investigation until the day of Foster’s arrest. Once the FBI briefed him on the evidence, Dyer said he was shocked.
“It was difficult to believe what they were saying,” Dyer told the jury. “It caused me to feel hurt emotionally. I felt like I had been betrayed.”
Foster contends that Dyer ordered him in May 2014 to investigate whether there was an explosion of heroin overdoses in the city. Foster testified he was working undercover with Guzman to satisfy Dyer’s order.
But Dyer said he directed Foster to research the issue to determine whether patrol cars should carry antidotes for opiate overdoses.
Prosecutors then played a wiretap in which Foster talks to Guzman about buying heroin. Dyer testified it was the first time he has heard the recording.
Questioned by prosecutor Duce Rice, the chief said he never asked Foster to work undercover with Guzman and never was told Foster was working undercover. Dyer also said it wouldn’t be possible for a deputy chief to work undercover.
As for the research Dyer asked for, he said Foster never turned it in.