Former Fresno police officer Alfred “Al” Campos will stand trial on felony charges of receiving or buying a stolen truck and committing perjury, a judge ruled Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court, ending five days of testimony that took place under intense security.
His pending criminal trial will explore the deep division among the rank-and-file within the Fresno Police Department.
Judge John Vogt made his decision Tuesday after defense attorneys Mario DiSalvo and Yan Erick Shrayberman abruptly quit calling witnesses on Campos’ behalf at his preliminary hearing.
Their first two witnesses – two confidential police informants – invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. If the two informants had testified, as many as five Fresno police officers were ready to testify on Campos’ behalf, DiSalvo said.
“It was a strategic move” not to call the police officers as witnesses, DiSalvo said, pointing out the preliminary hearing gave the defense lawyers the opportunity to see the prosecution’s case, which they said relied heavily on hearsay evidence. At trial, the prosecution will have to produce the witnesses who gave police incriminating information about Campos.
“And we don’t plan to waive time,” DiSalvo said, adding Campos wants to stand trial as soon as possible “so he can prove his innocence.”
During the hearing, prosecutor Robert Mangano contended that Campos knowingly purchased a stolen truck from one of the informants in January 2014 for $6,000 and then lied to the state Department of Motor Vehicles by signing a form, under penalty of perjury, that he paid only $3,000 for the truck to avoid paying additional taxes.
It was good to go. No stops, no holds.
Linda Huerta, retired Department of Motor Vehicles employee
Testifying for the prosecution, Fresno police Detective Brad Alcorn said Campos bought the stolen pickup with a vehicle identification number, commonly known as a VIN, that was switched. Alcorn testified that the informant who sold the truck to Campos told him that Campos knew it was stolen.
To further his alleged scheme, Campos called police dispatch two times while he was off duty to see whether the truck was stolen or registered, Alcorn testified. Dispatch told Campos there was no record on file, meaning that the vehicle didn’t exist, Alcorn said.
DiSalvo and Shrayberman, however, said Campos is not guilty of the charges and pointed out that Campos cooperated with police by talking freely with Alcorn and other detectives.
Campos was a 15-year veteran of the Fresno Police Department before he was fired in January 2015. Allegations of drug trafficking – that was blurted out by Alcorn during the hearing before he was stopped by the judge – tarnished Campos’ career.
Once the trial begins, one of Campos’ key witnesses will be Sgt. Paul Cervantes, who has sued the Fresno Police Department and detectives Alcorn and Cary Phelps and Sgt. Tim Tietjen. Cervantes has accused them of smearing his reputation and subjecting him to workplace harassment and discrimination due to his Hispanic ethnicity. Tietjen, Alcorn and Phelps are white. The three detectives played key roles in the Campos investigation.
Checking on truck
The Career Criminal Auto Theft Team began investigating Campos in January 2014 after employees of Michael’s Chevrolet at Bullard and Blackstone avenues reported a faulty vehicle identification number on a 2011 Chevrolet Silverado Campos had taken to the dealership for some warranty work.
Officer Anthony Alvarado testified that the VIN on the dashboard was fake. Alvarado also said he 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 in Virginia.
Alfred ‘Al’ Campos was a 15-year veteran of the Fresno Police Department before he was fired in January 2015. Allegations of drug trafficking have tarnished his career.
Phelps testified that he 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.
Phelps said he found the bill of sale and a Virginia title for the truck in Campos’ home. Phelps testified that 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.
Alcorn testified that Campos told him and Tietjen that he purchased the truck for $6,000 because the truck had engine problems. Because Campos was a trained police officer and owns an auto repair business, he is familiar with VIN labels and should have known the truck was stolen and the VIN and title were fake.
But prosecution witness Brian Hubbard, a service manager at Michael’s Chevrolet, testified that he would not know whether the VIN on the dashboard of Campos’ truck was fake by just looking at it. He also said not all vehicles have VIN stickers in the glove box and in the engine compartment.
Linda Huerta, who retired from the DMV after working there nearly 30 years, testified that she thought Campos’ title for a Chevrolet pickup truck looked “Mickey Mouse” when he came to the DMV on Olive Avenue on Jan. 23, 2014, to register it.
She said she alerted her manager, but the manager saw nothing wrong with the vehicle title and told her to process the paperwork for Campos. She said she encountered no problems when she punched in the VIN to the DMV database.
“It was good to go. No stops, no holds,” Huerta testified.
Huerta testified Campos told her he paid $3,000 for the truck and wrote that amount on the DMV form under penalty of perjury. She said Campos paid $285 in fees.
But on cross-examination, Huerta testified that “half of Fresno lies” about the selling price of the vehicle in order to save money on DMV fees.