Silence of the Lambs actress Jodie Foster’s estranged father is facing up to 20 years in prison for allegedly ripping off over two dozen investors, taking more than $130,000 in an apparent housing scam in Los Angeles. Lucius Foster, whose trial began in a Los Angeles-area courtroom yesterday, is charged with 25 counts of grand theft and 10 counts of contracting without a license.
“Mr. Foster is a liar and a cheat,” said Deputy City Attorney Don Cocek during opening statements. “He has had a scam going for years to steal money from people. A lot of people fell for it. He sounded so convincing.”
According to Cocek, the 89-year-old building contractor bilked each of his clients out of a $5,000 downpayment after he claimed he would build them low-cost modular homes for $85,000. He planned to make the three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot homes out of metal cargo containers from China.
He found buyers on Craigslist, where he placed an ad, Cocek said. Once he was contacted, he would arrange to meet the potential investors at a Starbucks coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley. There, he would gain their trust by regaling them with wartime stories, and promise them that their dream homes would be completed at locations of their choosing within a year.
“He told me these great World War II stories,” testified Thomas Marks, one of Foster’s alleged victims. “He told me he liked oatmeal cookies. So I made him oatmeal cookies. We had a good rapport so I didn’t think he would do this.”
“He explained how much money I could save,” testified Jose Luis Montoya, another one of foster’s alleged victims. “I can have my house in the city I choose. I thought it was cheap compared to what the market was at the time. I trusted him.”
To add more credibility to his purported scheme, he would name-drop that he was the father of the two-time Oscar winner.
“He wanted to help low-income people who couldn’t ever be able to own a house,” testified alleged victim Karina Kazaryan. “He said he was the father of Jodie Foster and he had a lot of money and he was just doing it to help people.” Foster told The Daily Beast that he receives $677 a month in Social Security benefits and drives around in a 1971 Volkswagen.
The City Attorney’s Office said it got wind of the alleged scam in July 2011, when one of Foster’s investors filed a complaint with the California contractors state licensing board. Soon afterward, prosecutors discovered that Foster had more than two-dozen complaints filed against him in small-claims court.
The victims testified that they realized they were duped when the completion date for the project had passed and they couldn’t get a hold of Foster. Alleged victim Johnny Baca said he repeatedly called Foster for weeks.
“He had disconnected his cellphone,” he testified. “He wasn’t picking up his home phone. I had to call from a number he didn’t recognize. He picked up and said he had been sick and there had been delays.”
His victims testified that Foster made up numerous excuses for failing to build their dream homes.
“I wanted to cancel the contract and take my money back,” testified Montoya. “He said he couldn’t [give me the money back] because of the recession and he needed more clients. He said once he got more clients he would give me my money back.”
Alleged vicitim Zhaneta Terbersegyan testified that Foster blamed his lack of progress on his difficulty obtaining permits from city hall. “It took three years and I still believed him,” she said. “He told me so many different stories. The main thing was the city wasn’t giving permits out and he was trying to get them … I finally gave up on the idea. I wasn’t going to get a house.”
“The excuses varied from city hall wouldn’t give him a permit to people were taking him to court and taking his money away,” said Kazaryan. “He said if I filed a small claim against him, he would file for bankruptcy.”
For his part, Foster, who is representing himself during the legal proceedings, denied he was trying to rip off anybody. During his opening statements, Foster admitted that he did owe money to his victims but blamed the fiasco on the economy. “The bubble dropped on me,” he said.
Foster, who uses a walker, made for one strange defense attorney. He thanked each of his accusers after they testified. On one occasion, he commended a woman for being “truthful and honest and straightforward” after she lambasted him in court. In another instance, he applauded a man “for showing up.” To another, he asked: “You still want the house?”
Outside the courtroom, the spry octogenarian explained to The Daily Beast that he began looking to build low-cost homes out of storage containers in 2005. “I wanted to do something important in life,” he said. “I was trying to save the middle class. I wanted to do something about the high cost of housing. Shipping containers would be perfect for California. They go through fires and can float.”
Foster, who is surprisingly upbeat for a man who might spend the rest of his days in jail, joked about his time as an alleged POW in Germany and as a soldier in Vietnam. “I hold the record for flying more missions with wet pants than anybody,” he joked. “I was scared to death.”
Asked if he had any family support, he replied: “I have to defend myself … the minute you get into a situation, your family is gone. I am a villain now. Now I am a marked criminal and everyone I know is taking off.”
About his famous daughter, he said: “I wouldn’t bother her on things like this. There is a friction. Her mother and I got divorced. It was an unpleasant divorce.”
According to Jodie’s brother, Buddy Foster, in his book Foster Child, Lucius met Jodie’s mother, Evelyn Ella “Brandy” Almond, at a fencing club and married her during a trip to Tijuana, Mexico. According to the book, Jodie was conceived after the couple split and their mother went to Lucius for child-support money. In the book, Buddy wrote that Lucius proposed a deal: he would give their mother money in exchange for sex. Nine months later, so the story goes, Jodie was born.
Foster, who said he lives with his 63-year-old wife of 30-plus years in an apartment in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said he is adamant he will pay back the money if he beats the rap. “I just can’t do a bankruptcy and dump them,” he said. “I have to pay these little dummies back.”