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.

Decoding the meaning of Steve Vender's voicemail has been the goal of one trial. But another is on the way.
James Sanders
Decoding the meaning of Steve Vender's voicemail has been the goal of one trial. But another is on the way.

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 to Kate 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."

The defense maintains that Vender was only doing his job. Safire wanted Vender to find Greer, take a statement, and get him under subpoena. The voicemail, by this reading, was nothing more than an attempt by Vender to make inroads with Greer. When Vender did find him, Greer didn't want to go to court for either side. As for the part about the Fresno Riviera, Vender's attorney Cris Arguedas argued during the trial that was a reference to a previous conversation Vender had with Greer, in which Greer mentioned he had family in Fresno, and Vender joked about the charms of the Fresno Riviera.

On the stand, Safire told the court he wanted Greer as a witness for the defense. "I didn't want him in the Fresno Riviera," Safire tells SF Weekly. "I wanted him under subpoena if I needed him."

Even with all the support Vender had, a top-notch law firm working pro bono, and years of preparation, on Jan. 27 a jury returned 11 guilty votes. One lone juror voted not-guilty. It was deadlocked, so the judge declared a mistrial. Vender had narrowly escaped a felony conviction.

But the saga of private investigator Steve Vender doesn't end there. On Feb. 27, the case goes back to court, where the D.A. will most likely charge Vender again and start a whole new ordeal. Greer may have another chance to testify — if the cagey witness can be found. And the lawyers for Vender, the longtime private investigator whose career hangs in the balance, will have another chance to explain what he meant in that infamous voicemail.

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