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Arrested St. Petersburg Detective Anthony Foster didn't recognize the tactics

ST. PETERSBURG — The fugitive had already killed two police officers while hiding in an attic and was still shooting down through the ceiling at the rest.

Outside, Detective Anthony Foster used his network of informants to get the gunman's cell number. He called and tried to talk him down, but to no avail. The fugitive was killed in that Jan. 24 gunfight.

It was the kind of police work Foster had been lauded for: developing sources deep inside St. Petersburg's underworld.

So how could this streetwise cop be ensnared by his own confidential informant?

The homicide detective was arrested by the FBI on June 8, accused of extorting the informant out of $8,000 in cash and goods.

Federal agents say they nabbed Foster by using methods that should be familiar to the veteran detective: They spied on his texts, recorded his phone calls, even photographed him taking cash and a stolen TV.

How was the FBI able to do all that? According to a federal affidavit, it set up Foster using his own informant — a source Foster groomed himself.

Bobby Sullivan is a retired Pasco sheriff's vice commander who now trains officers to handle informants for a police institute. He said Foster broke the golden rule about informers: never trust one.

"The informant did what informants do," Sullivan said. "They look out for themselves. They're loyal to no one but themselves.

"And they'll turn on anybody for the right price."

• • •

The unidentified confidential informant became Foster's "CI" in 2008, the federal affidavit says. Foster vouched for the person in court in 2009 and 2010.

But 2009 was also the year the detective started leaning on his informant for gifts, the affidavit said, including cash, groceries and Nike Air Jordan sneakers.

Then, in February 2010, the informant was charged with grand theft in Hernando County. That could mean prison time. A year later, as the trial approached, the informant was desperate for Foster to put in a good word with authorities. But Foster wanted $4,000, the affidavit said, or a motorcycle.

It's unclear when the informant turned on Foster or when the FBI started monitoring him. But the affidavit shows agents monitored Foster very closely.

• • •

Police routinely record phone calls in secret, hoping to coax a suspect into making incriminating statements. As a detective, Foster should know this.

Yet Foster was repeatedly recorded making incriminating statements, the affidavit said. He was recorded raising the price for his services up to $7,500. He was recorded demanding a television and a motorcycle.

Sullivan said it's surprising how much criminals still say over the phone. But for a detective to do it?

"That is pretty sloppy to talk that way on a cell phone," he said.

The affidavit noted that Foster used his own cell phone to call and text the informant. Those kinds of records are routinely subpoenaed by detectives like Foster.

When the informant sent a photo of a motorcycle for sale to Foster's cell, the affidavit said, he texted back: "okay." Later, when the informant sent Foster a text that explicitly mentioned money, the detective called and admonished the informant:

"(You) can't be sending me crazy damn texts like that," Foster said, which was also recorded.

University of South Florida professor Shayne Jones, an expert in criminal psychology, analyzed the actions and behavior of Foster alleged by the FBI for the St. Petersburg Times.

"Foster might have believed he was smarter than the average criminal and could explain his actions as part of his job," Jones wrote in an e-mail.

Foster's attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.

• • •

The FBI also said it set up two stings to build its case against Foster, during which agents recorded and photographed him accepting cash and what he believed was a stolen TV.

On April 6, FBI agents observed Foster taking $7,075 from the informant — and complaining that it wasn't enough.

Then on April 15, the affidavit said, the informant offered Foster a "hot" TV in a recorded call.

At 12:45 p.m., the FBI said, Foster drove his police car to the Publix at 3030 54th Ave S.

"I thought you were bringing my damn money," Foster said, which the FBI said it also recorded. He took $325 from inside the informant's car, the FBI said, then went to the informant's trunk.

Foster pulled out a 40-inch Samsung TV, the affidavit said, and put it in the trunk of his police cruiser — outside a grocery store, during the lunch rush.

"That goes to his arrogance," Sullivan said. "He's thinking 'I'm above the law. I can do what I want to do. Who's going to question me? I'm a cop.' "

• • •

Foster, 39, has not yet entered a plea to federal charges of wire fraud and interference with commerce by threats. He was suspended and freed pending trial.

"He fell for everything, hook, line and sinker," said veteran defense lawyer Lyann Goudie after reading the details of the FBI's sting. "Unbelievable."

But former state and federal prosecutor J. Larry Hart said he's not surprised that even a veteran investigator might fall prey to his own tactics.

"The techniques are tested, tried and true," he said. "If one chooses to engage in criminal activity, there are certain things they have to do.

"Then it's just a matter of catching them."

Jones said police and criminals share one trait that may have also played a role in the case: Officers may believe that risking their lives entitles them to special treatment. Well, criminals also feel entitled.

"Foster might have felt entitled and believed he was above the law," Jones wrote. "A typical cognitive distortion of criminal offenders is a sense of entitlement."

That may have been on display during a particular phone call recorded by the FBI: Foster complained that the informant had wasted thousands on an attorney when he was the one really helping the informant.

When he retired, Foster told the informant, he was going to become a "criminal consultant."

"You know what? He would be a good criminal consultant," Sullivan said. "Except he fell for one of the oldest tricks: He trusted his confidential informant, who turned around and set him up."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Arrested St. Petersburg Detective Anthony Foster didn't recognize the tactics 06/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 8:48pm]
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