Travel Agent: A Veteran Private Investigator Goes on Trial. But Some Say It's a Set-Up
"The idea they couldn't find the warrant is ridiculous," Andrews says of the October 2009 encounter with Greer in the Tenderloin. He thinks the cops conspired with Greer to get dirt on Vender and then released him, even though he had an active no-bail warrant, after he gave up the message from Vender. "That was a set-up." Vender is known as a tenacious defense investigator. In 2006, he helped Andrews defend alleged gang member Daniel Dennard, who ended up beating a murder charge and walking free. Over the years, he's found missing witnesses and dug up dirt against key witnesses for the prosecution, helping to tear apart a handful of high-profile cases, some of which took years to put together. "It's absolutely payback," says Andrews, who has hired Vender on many occasions. "'Don't be too effective or we'll come after you.'" The indictment is devastating for Vender, but it could also have a chilling effect on the defense, says Eric Safire, the attorney who represented Pitney and hired Vender. "It is not the way the system is supposed to work," Safire says. "It is a direct attack on the Constitution." The charge against Vender "is a result of mine and Steve's successes," he says, because for years the two of them have been "throwing monkey wrenches in the prosecution's cases." D.A. spokesperson Alex Bastion wouldn't comment about the allegations of retaliation, saying only that, "in order to protect the integrity of the justice system, it is vital to ensure that witnesses are not prevented or dissuaded from testifying in court." Though police couldn't find Greer to testify for the trial, a jury still convicted Pitney of attempted murder. He got 40-years-to-life. The cops did eventually find Greer a month later
just in time to have him testify at Vender's grand jury hearing. When Vender was indicted in November 2009, he spent a day in jail. His bail was $75,000. Eventually a judge lowered it to $25,000 after Vender delivered more than 30 letters of support to the court from lawyers, judges, and investigators. But for four years, Vender had the felony charge hanging over his head. This Jan. 16, the case went to trial. The only evidence the D.A. had was the recorded voicemail to Greer, but prosecutors say it speaks for itself. Michael Maffei, the assistant district attorney who tried Vender, broke down the message into three parts. Maffei argues that Vender tells Greer he has a no-bail warrant out for arrest to imply that if Greer comes to court to testify, he will be arrested and won't be released on bail. Secondly, Vender mentions the last day of trial, an implicit suggestion to lay low until then. And, lastly, Vender tells Greer, "So it's October and it's a good time to visit the Fresno Riviera and stay well," which means Greer had better skip town, according to the D.A. In Maffei's closing arguments, he told jurors that Vender is like a mobster intimidating a witness. Vender never testified about what he meant to say in the voicemail, and declined to comment for this story. The closest thing to an explanation was a comment he gave toKate Moser, a reporter for The Recorder, in 2010: "As you are aware, Fresno is a land-locked city in the Central Valley ... It's a ridiculous notion to think that Steve Vender can pick up the phone and tell violent gang members with a criminal history to disappear to a place that doesn't exist."