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Twisted Affair

Allyson Forster
Character Witnessed: Two photographs of Allyson Forster--the one at right taken by her husband after an alleged beating by a boy they had taken into their home.

Allyson Forster is being held on $1.2 million bail, charged with molesting a 14-year-old boy who has admitted to beating her. This is their story.

By Will Harper

CAROLYN COFFARO will tell you her 30-year-old daughter, Allyson, is so sweet-natured and naive that she can't even muster sarcasm. "She'd never say anything to hurt you," her mother says. But Carolyn Coffaro is worried now, because her daughter sits in county jail accused of being a sex criminal.

The scene being played out in the courthouse near First and Hedding over the past few months feels like a live-action episode of Oprah. Depending on who you talk to, it would be called "Foster Moms Who Seduce Kids" or "Streetwise Punks Who Invade Homes." Even for someone who's followed the preliminary hearing closely, it is a challenge to sort out the predator from the seducer.

But it's not so difficult to find a victim. In fact, the only thing certain in this sordid story is that everyone involved got hurt--and the system, now seemingly scurrying to make up for past oversight, was unable to stop it.

Holy Matrimony

LIKE HER SISTERS, Allyson Coffaro was not allowed to date until she was 16. Four months after her 18th birthday, Allyson married Keith Forster, who had just gotten out of the Navy reserve. He was the first and only boy she ever dated.

Keith and Allyson professed a strong belief that marriage should last a lifetime. Both served as elders in their church, where they led marriage counseling sessions for couples. The personalized license plate on their blue Jeep Cherokee reads, "KNA4EVR."

After 10-plus years of marriage, however, Keith had almost come to relate to Allyson more like a father than a husband. He attributes this to her immaturity and sheltered life. She never finished high school and worked only briefly. She's never even got a traffic ticket, her lawyers claim. Their sex life was extremely conservative--Allyson could even be described as something of a prude, Keith says.

But law enforcement authorities say that behind the image of naiveté and religious dedication painted by her family exists a very different woman. Today, 30-year-old Allyson Forster is being held in county jail on $1.2 million bail. If convicted for allegedly seducing and molesting a minor, prosecutors say she could serve 11 years in prison.

According to court papers, Allyson initiated a heated sexual affair with a troubled 14-year-old boy whom she and Keith brought into their San Jose home in January 1996.

The young life of Jorge Salinas (not his real name) had been thrown into disarray years earlier when, at the age of 10 or 11, his mother died. He went to live with his then-16-year-old sister and was subsequently shuffled between relatives. Keith Forster, a Santa Clara County correctional officer, thought he and his wife could provide guidance and discipline for the teen, as well as a stable home. But less than two months into the arrangement, nothing could have been further from the truth.

On the Record

MOST OF THE EVIDENCE presented in court hearings so far has come in the form of testimony from Jorge, though in police reports Allyson doesn't dispute they had a sexual romance in the early going. (In one instance, she admits she and the boy did have sex in the family house, downstairs on the living room floor, while Keith slept in the upstairs bedroom.) Jorge says he was a virgin, and Allyson showed him what to do. They had sex on the side of the road in the Jeep. They shared a bubble bath in a Campbell motel room. When not together, they engaged in phone sex. Jorge told police they drank hard liquor and would snort or smoke methamphetamine he scored with her money.

The secret affair--which is described as a case of child molestation in court papers--might have continued, but Jorge's older sister sensed something going on between her brother and Allyson. For one thing, she now says in court records, Jorge seemed more withdrawn, confused and emotional than ever before. She noticed during one visit that Allyson dressed provocatively in front of the teenager, wearing a short nightgown that barely covered her thighs. Once, when the teenage boy had been to a party with girls his own age, Allyson became jealous. They acted more like a couple than a surrogate mother and her son, she observed.

"She began to get obsessed with him," the sister recalls. "She wouldn't spend time with her husband. It was Jorge, Jorge, Jorge."

When the sister and her husband finally asked Jorge if something was wrong, the boy told of the months-long sexual affair. The couple then told Keith.

Her infidelity exposed, Allyson freaked out. She drove Jorge to a Los Gatos pizza parlor where she took an overdose of anti-depressants. According to police, she swallowed a bottle of pills in front of Jorge, who had employees call 911. She lapsed into a coma for five days.

Allyson and Jorge's private encounters apparently persisted through the rest of the year, even after Allyson was twice arrested for her relationship with the boy.

Jorge was, according to his own confession, no angel. He admits that he hit Allyson on at least two occasions. While Keith was away working in the county jail one night in April, Jorge pushed Allyson down and cut off a patch of her hair with a knife. Later, they had what Jorge insists was consensual sex, though Keith, after seeing the disarray in their home, filed a police report suggesting his wife had been sexually assaulted.

Jorge testified that he choked Allyson and twice threatened to kill her. He told police he slugged Allyson in the eye three or four times while high on drugs, inflicting a wound that reportedly required 10 stitches.

Despite the violence, Allyson didn't seek protection from Jorge or even seem to avoid him. When Jorge escaped from a boys ranch in Morgan Hill at Christmas time, he says Allyson helped him hide from authorities. Jorge testified in court that while he was a fugitive, she bought him clothes and food, offered him cocaine and rented motel rooms for the two of them, where they continued their affair.

It was after this final episode that the district attorney's office decided to get tough on Allyson Forster, and the court imposed the $1.2 million bail judgment which has kept her behind bars for four months.

Victim vs. Victim

BOTH FAMILIES INSIST their loved one is the victim in this case. Jorge's sister and brother-in-law, with the backing of law enforcement officials, describe Jorge as a vulnerable teenage boy seduced by a disturbed older woman whom he originally viewed as a mother figure.

"She's a child molester," fumes public defender Zach Ledet, Jorge's legal counsel. Ledet says Allyson Forster needs to be locked up for as long as possible. The $1 million bail is too low, in his opinion.

Jorge's sister describes Forster as a manipulative woman who once boasted that she could control her husband and make him do whatever she wanted.

Forster's family portrays Allyson as an innocent but mixed-up and vulnerable woman, forced into bizarre behavior by a streetwise hoodlum who became obsessed with her and threatened her family with physical harm.

Keith says his wife was acting out of fear because she wasn't in her right mind during the whole affair. She was also doped up on medications: During the first sexual encounter between Allyson and Jorge, Keith says, Allyson had mixed prescription pills with booze.

Allyson's family also accuses the police of being biased, taking the boy's side from the start. Keith claims the cops even lost photos taken of his wife after she'd been beaten.

"She did stupid things, we can't deny that," concedes Carolyn Coffaro. "But this girl was on heavy medications and had no trust in the police anymore," Coffaro cries, fanning herself as she tries to regain her composure.

Both sides ask the same question about the other to support their view: "Does a victim behave like that?"

Would a victim drive hundreds of miles to see her abuser, as Allyson apparently did? Does a victim buy her abuser clothes, write him love letters, help him run from the law, rent motel rooms and have sex with him?

Does a victim brutalize his alleged assailant and threaten her family? Why does a supposedly innocent boy know how to score hard drugs?

God's Will

ALLYSON FORSTER, her family admits, has long suffered from depression and profound insecurity. As a girl, she tried to commit suicide. Carolyn Coffaro says her fragile daughter always felt inferior to her sisters, one of whom is now in the ministry.

Allyson sought solace and support from the church but, according to Keith, ultimately became disillusioned. Some church-goers questioned her use of anti-depressants and looked askance at professional counseling done by non-Christians, Keith says.

When Allyson and Keith struggled to have a baby, her perceived infertility made her feel even more like a failure, her mom recalls. Eventually, she became pregnant, getting the good news right before an appointment at a fertility clinic. But motherhood was hardly the panacea that her family thought it would be.

After their son was born, Allyson went through severe postpartum depression. Before Jorge came into her life, she had few friends and was emotionally isolated.

By all accounts, Jorge, too, has led a tough life. His parents divorced when he was young. When his mother remarried, the family moved to San Jose from Sonora.

When his mother died of cancer, he moved in with his older sister, an arrangement worked out within the family. At the time, however, his sister was only 16 and had just had her first baby. Jorge wound up staying with other relatives, though he and his sister remained close.

Her husband--now a reformed gang member--met Keith Forster while serving time in county jail. The two became friends, and Keith helped the husband turn his life around. The couple started going to the Forsters' church--Evangel Christian Fellowship--and attended Keith and Allyson's marriage counseling sessions.

By this time, Jorge, then 14, was living in his sister's house again. For unclear reasons, the couple decided Jorge couldn't stay with them any longer, court records say. Around Christmas of 1995, Keith and Allyson offered to take care of Jorge and possibly become his foster parents.

Perhaps this was God's will, Jorge's sister and brother-in-law thought. The couple considered the Forsters good people, and recognized that they were in a better position financially to care for a teenager. They hoped Keith and Allyson could provide Jorge with a stable home.

Allyson, they now say, did strike them as odd. Jorge's sister recalls how the night they went to discuss the proposed living arrangement with the Forsters at their home, Allyson burst into tears and threw a fit because Jorge hadn't come along. But the young couple trusted Keith implicitly; the husband considered Keith his mentor.

Jorge, perhaps feeling bad about imposing on his sister, her husband and their three kids, decided to give the new living arrangement a chance.

Gender Bender

ON THE WITNESS STAND during the preliminary hearing, Jorge, who is now nearing his 16th birthday, testified that he liked having sex with Allyson, and that his surrogate mother liked having sex with him. While doing it in a motel room after he escaped from the boys ranch, Jorge says she told him that Keith couldn't make her feel so good, that Jorge could "work it" better than her husband.

At times when he recalls their escapades, Jorge sounds like a hormone-driven adolescent boy who lived out the fantasy of being seduced by a sexually experienced older woman.

Nothing could be further from the truth, says Deputy District Attorney Joann McCracken. If the genders were reversed, she points out, and it were a 30-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, most people would feel differently.

"Because of certain stereotypes," McCracken observes, "some people may think that a male child in this case wouldn't be as injured as if it were a girl and a 30-year-old man. [But] this child has been very damaged by her conduct."

The prosecutor bristles at the suggestion by Allyson's family that she is the victim.

"She's a 30-year-old woman, and we're going to blame a 14-year-old child? I don't think so," McCracken says.

Jorge, however, does not come off as blameless. On the stand he has contradicted himself and at times invoked Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination. One day he repeatedly insisted he had never done methamphetamine before meeting Allyson, then suddenly recalled previously having done it three times.

Forster's lawyer, Richard Pointer, says in a court affidavit that Jorge left a recorded phone message recanting all his allegations, saying he lied to police.

Aside from facing molestation charges, Forster is accused of harboring a fugitive and also attempting to dissuade Jorge from testifying. According to court records, she told Jorge to "get out of town" before the preliminary hearing because then prosecutors wouldn't have a case.

During this week's preliminary hearing, Forster's lawyers and McCracken privately discussed a plea bargain. After they emerged from the conference, Allyson unexpectedly went into hysterics and Judge John Pasco continued the hearing until June. Forster's lawyers later questioned her mental competence and ability to make independent judgements. Allyson's family had previously refused to cut a deal, saying they want the case tried in front of a jury.

Jorge keeps his gaze steady while on the stand, rarely looking over to see Allyson in her brown jail jumpsuit. At one time, he loved this woman--the first love of his young life. "Puppy love" is how his brother-in-law describes it. "Fatal attraction" is how Keith views it. Not long ago, both Allyson and Jorge told police that they didn't want the other to get into trouble.

During cross-examination, Pointer asked the boy if he used to think of Allyson every day.

"Every second," Jorge quietly acknowledged.

But prosecutors say this is no love story. Jorge walks away from his relationship with Allyson Forster psychologically scarred, says Deputy DA McCracken. She points to a photo of Jorge taken by Allyson. The boy has altered it with black and red pens, drawing a gun pointed at his head with blood dripping down the walls behind him.

Meanwhile, Allyson Forster's bruises have healed now. Her psyche, perhaps, remains an open wound.

Truth in this case is elusive. There would be no ambiguity if the case involved a 30-year-old man and 14-year-old girl. Even the language used by prosecutors is different from that used with more common sex crimes. Allyson Forster "seduced" Jorge--which implies consent. A female victim in the same situation would be "coerced."

The law, however, doesn't like ambiguity. There must be a victim and a perpetrator. The law may ultimately decide that there are two perpetrators in this case, but maybe the two families are also right: Allyson and Jorge are both victims.

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From the May 15-21, 1997 issue of Metro

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