Under heavy security, a preliminary hearing began Tuesday for former Fresno police officer Alfred “Al” Campos, who is accused of buying or receiving a stolen pickup and lying to authorities about it.
Campos has faced such attention before, having been the subject of other police investigations that have tarnished his career. He was fired from the Fresno Police Department in January 2015.
Campos’ lawyer, Yan Erick Shrayberman, said the metal detector to get into the courtroom and the half-dozen sheriff deputies and two armed investigators assigned to monitor the proceedings is overkill. “This is a low-level auto theft case,” Shrayberman said. “I’ve seen less security at a trial for the Bulldogs gang.”
Shrayberman said Campos is not guilty and that he cooperated with police by talking freely with detectives. The case is nonsense, he said, because Campos owns an auto repair shop. “If he knew the pickup was a stolen truck, would he take it to a dealership to get it repaired and also pay DMV fees on it?”
Shrayberman also criticized Fresno police officer Brad Alcorn for blurting out in his testimony that he believed Campos was involved in drug trafficking.
Judge John Vogt stopped Alcorn from testifying further about drugs since Campos is not facing drug charges.
“This is the way police play,” Shrayberman said outside court. “They are trying to bootstrap a weak case by making up stuff. They are just grasping at straws.”
The preliminary hearing is expected to take three days. Most of the evidence will come from Fresno police officers who used to work with Campos and later investigated and arrested him in February 2015.
On Tuesday, prosecutor Robert Mangano began his case by presenting circumstantial evidence that ties Campos to a stolen pickup, but nothing to prove he knew it was stolen. That evidence may come later this week when two police informants are expected to testify in the trial.
Officer Anthony Alvarado testified that he and other members of the Career Criminal Auto Theft Team, including Alcorn, began investigating Campos on Jan. 28, 2014, after employees of Michael’s Chevrolet at Bullard and Blackstone avenues reported a faulty vehicle identification number, commonly known as a VIN, on a 2011 Chevrolet Silverado pickup Campos had taken to the dealership for some warranty work.
Alvarado said his investigation showed that pickup’s VIN on the dashboard was tampered, altered and fake. He said he also discovered a fake federal label on the driver’s door that had the same false VIN number. In addition, a federal label in the glove box and a federal label in the engine compartment that are supposed to have part of the VIN were missing.
After further investigation, Alvarado testified he found the true VIN number for the pickup and learned the pickup was really a 2008 Chevrolet truck that had been stolen from Virginia.
This is a low-level auto theft case.
Defense attorney Yan Erick Shrayberman
Detective Cary Phelps testified that once Campos became a suspect, Phelps wrote an affidavit in support of a warrant so detectives could search Campos’ home on East Clinton Avenue and his business, A&A Auto Service, on North Blackstone Avenue near Ashlan Avenue.
In the search, detectives seized several guns, boxes of ammunition, magazines, computers, financial records and other things, the affidavit says.
Phelps testified that he found a bill of sale and a Virginia title for the truck in Campos’ home. Phelps said he tracked down the owner of the pickup and the owner told him that his truck had been stolen from a dealership in Alexandria, Va. Phelps testified that police in Virginia verified the truck had been stolen.
Phelps testified the title for the stolen truck was fake because it had the same fake VIN number that was on Campos’ truck and other discrepancies.
According to Phelps’ affidavit, police typically checked stolen vehicles for drugs because stolen vehicles often are used to transport illegal narcotics. No drugs were found in Campos’ truck, but a drug-sniffing police dog found two places in the truck in which drugs of some kind previously had been placed and/or transported, the affidavit states.
According to a court affidavit, after Campos became a suspect, detectives searched Campos’ home on Clinton Avenue and his business, A&A Auto Service, on North Blackstone near Ashlan Avenue. In the search, detectives seized several guns, boxes of ammunition, magazines, computers and financial records.
Though Alcorn was prohibited from talking about the search of Campos’ truck, Alcorn testified that Campos talked to him and Sgt. Tim Tietjen after Campos was read his Miranda rights.
He said Campos told him that he purchased the car from a man identified as BC for $6,000 because the truck had engine problems. BC paid $15,000 for the truck and spent another $2,000 to keep it going, Alcorn testified.
Alcorn said Campos told him that he had purchased three vehicles in the past from another man, and that manand BC know each other.
Because Campos owns an auto repair business, he is familiar with VIN labels, Alcorn said. Alcorn also said Campos told him that the business was making more than $200,000 a year.
“He called it a family business,” Alcorn testified. Even when Campos was on the police force, Alcorn said, Campos told him that “he was at the business almost every day, actively running it.”
Police say Campos has been in trouble with the department before.
In 2007, he was cleared of wrongdoing in a drug investigation by the police internal affairs unit. The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office also investigated and did not file criminal charges against him.
In that case, police used a confidential informant to buy methamphetamine from Campos’ half brother Francisco Marin Jr. at the Clinton Avenue home where Campos and his family lived. Police said they found 2.8 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and $73,000 in cash in the July 20, 2006, bust.
Marin, then 23, and his brother, Jose Macario Guzman, then 28, were charged with felony possession of drugs with the intent to sell. But in March 2007, Guzman, whose nickname was “Monkey,” was found dead in his burning Chevy Tahoe near Fruit and American avenues southwest of Fresno.
The case remains unsolved, but sheriff’s officials believe Guzman was killed by a member or members of a drug cartel in Mexico. In September 2007, Marin pleaded guilty to the drug charge and was sentenced to three years in prison.
A year after the drug bust, Campos returned to work. In announcing Campos’ return, Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the investigation revealed that Campos was not at fault because the methamphetamine was found in two bedrooms that were occupied by his half brothers.