TAMPA — The homicide detective extorted cash and gifts from his informer. But in the end, prosecutors say, the informer proved his undoing.
Former St. Petersburg police Detective Anthony Foster was sentenced to two years of prison followed by a year's probation on Tuesday for making demands of an informer who also happened to be related to his wife.
In exchange for the gifts, Foster helped the woman get lighter sentences in several theft cases she faced, court records say. She eventually reported him to the FBI.
Foster, 40, who pleaded guilty in October to depriving citizens of honest services by wire fraud, apologized for his actions in a voice that was barely audible. Six other charges were dismissed as a condition of the plea agreement.
"I'm very, very sorry," Foster told U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.
Merryday called Foster's actions an inexplicable blotch on an otherwise outstanding 13-year law enforcement career. The judge said he had carefully examined Foster's history as a detective, calling him a "mighty good cop and a good man."
But the judge said his behavior in this case could not be excused.
"Mr. Foster, I don't need to tell you every one of us in the broad business of law enforcement … find this sort of episode very painful," Merryday said. "I don't understand why this had to happen. … It's a serious breach of an officer's responsibility."
Merryday gave Foster 60 days to report to prison, unless prison authorities ask him to report sooner. Sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of between two years and 30 months.
After the sentencing, Foster declined to comment, except to say, "God is good."
Foster's attorney, Frank Louderback, asked the court to impose a sentence that did not involve prison and included a term of home detention. He said Foster, as a former detective, might be a target in prison.
"Even though his physical stature is large, there are dangers involved in incarceration. There are people out there who are not happy with Mr. Foster, … and they have long arms in terms of retribution," Louderback said.
The judge did agree to allow Foster to serve his sentence in a minimum security prison, perhaps at a facility in Pensacola.
Louderback also noted that the informer, before the FBI began its investigation of Foster, "did render substantial assistance" to police.
The attorney said Foster is a native of St. Petersburg who had developed a vast web of contacts that he used to help solve cases. He said Foster still gets calls with information that he forwards to police.
"He pounded the street," Louderback said. "He got people to talk."
One example of that came on Jan. 24, 2011, when Foster managed to get the cell phone number of a fugitive who shot and killed two St. Petersburg police officers. A hostage negotiator called and tried to talk the gunman down from an attic, but to no avail.
Prosecutor Jay Trezevant told the judge that Foster would have known that his informer would be forced to steal to provide cash and gifts, victimizing businesses in the process.
And he said Foster's conduct shook St. Petersburg police.
"You can tell that was really a blow to them as a policing department," Trezevant said.
Foster was arrested last June by FBI agents who had been secretly surveilling the detective and recording him as he demanded — and accepted — cash and gifts from the informer. The FBI said Foster extorted up to $8,000 in money and goods from the informer, including a flat-panel TV, Nike Air Jordan sneakers and even groceries paid for with the informer's food stamps.
While Foster's work as a detective was often lauded, his personal life was marked by problems with alcohol and women.
He was suspended four times. Three of those suspensions came after Foster had fights or arguments with women that required police intervention. He also had been hit with two paternity suits that resulted in orders to pay hundreds of dollars in child support.
Foster earned $65,894 a year as a cop before he resigned on Nov. 8. Had he not resigned, the department said it would have fired him for numerous violations of policy. Louderback said Foster has now lost everything — his badge, his civil rights, his freedom.
The attorney said, "He's back down to ground zero."
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected].