Actress Foster’s Estranged Dad, 89, Convicted As ‘Bernie Madoff Of Sherman Oaks’
LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The estranged elderly father of actress Jodie Foster was convicted Wednesday of bilking thousands of dollars from homeowners in a home-building scheme.
Lucius Foster, 89, was convicted of 21 misdemeanor counts of grand theft and nine counts of contracting without a license.
Foster was taken into custody immediately after the jury’s verdict was read.
Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Dohi said Foster needed to be jailed because he indicated during the trial that he had no intention of pulling his advertisements and planned to continue soliciting customers.
The six-man, six-woman jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching a verdict.
Deputy City Attorney Don Cocek said Foster faces up to 25 1/2 years in county jail when he is sentenced Thursday afternoon. Foster said he wanted to be sentenced as soon as possible so he could serve his time, get out of jail and pay back the victims.
“We’re going to get [the money] back to them,” Foster said. “If it takes two or three years out of my life…I’m an old man, I want to be alive when I get out.”
During closing arguments, Cocek told jurors that Foster used war stories, blatant lies and personal charm to steal about $130,000 from prospective home buyers.
He called Foster, who had been soliciting customers since at least 2005, the “Bernie Madoff of Sherman Oaks.”
“It’s all a big scam,” Cocek told the Van Nuys jury, adding that the defendant “was smooth, he was slick, he was a nice guy…the scheme is to take money and to never give these people anything back.”
Foster bilked at least 21 often elderly or low-income residents out of $5,000 down payments on 2,000-square-foot modular homes made from 40-foot Chinese shipping containers on single-family lots throughout the San Fernando Valley, the prosecutor said.
Cocek noted that seven more alleged victims have come forward in the past week. He said a decision had not been made on whether to try Foster in those cases.
But Foster, who uses a walker to help him get around and acted as his own attorney, insisted that he was offering a creative solution to the affordable housing crisis when he promised to build investors low-cost modular homes out of cargo containers.
Foster told the jury his plan to build solar-heated three-bedroom, two-bath homes for less than $100,000 is “a whole new thing and people in the building department are against it.”
He argued that his plan to build houses “designed for modern living” was not a scam, but a solution to the problem of affordable housing.
“It seems like whenever we try to do something to help society, we get in trouble,” Foster said, without explaining exactly who “we” referred to.
At one point, Foster insisted he would eventually make good on the homes, which he advertised on Craigslist as costing $85,000 each.
Foster made contact with the alleged victims through his Modernistic Properties website, referrals from Realtors and postings on Craigslist, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
Gerry Ramirez, of Compton, said previously that Foster had told him of his familial relationship to the two-time Academy Award-winning actress “as validation and to build credibility.”
Ramirez said he previously won against Foster in small claims court, “but he doesn’t want to pay.”
Each alleged victim gave Foster a deposit of $5,000 toward the home purchase and received a contract stating the house would be completed by a certain date, Cocek said.
After the completion dates passed, Foster gave various excuses “but no house was ever built,” the prosecutor said.
Criminal charges were filed after the City Attorney’s Office discovered during an investigation that several civil judgments had been levied against Foster by prior victims who had been unable to recover their deposit for work that was never performed, officials said.
Foster said he remains estranged from his famous daughter.
“If you had a bad guy in your family, wouldn’t you draw walls around him?” Foster told reporters before the verdict was announced.
Cocek said it was unclear what Foster had done with the estimated $130,000 he had collected from his victims.
“I don’t know where that money is,” he said, noting that Foster’s back accounts were largely empty. He noted that the money could be “in a shoebox somewhere.”
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)